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Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction, and Democracy.

Prof. Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, is currently the pre-eminent American scholar focusing on communication and the political process. In her most recent book, Jamieson considers contemporary political advertising in four sections: (1) attack campaigning, (2) political advertising and the news, (3) news coverage of the campaign, and (4) accountability, engagement, and democracy.

Three important premises addressed in the text are announced in the first chapter: "The Role of Drama in Political Decisions." First, Jamieson argues that "in politics as in life, what is known is not necessarily what is believed, what is shown is not necessarily what is seen, and what is said is not necessarily what is heard." (16) Second, she claims that voters tend "to gather up and interrelate information from various places ... to weigh accessible, dramatic data more heavily than abstract statistical information and .... |to let~ fears shape perception of what constitutes 'fact.'" (16-17) Third, political information tends to mix so that data from political advertisements become intertwined with news stories. "Like pack rats, voters gather bits and pieces of political information and store them in a single place. Lost in the storage is a clear recall of where this or that 'fact' came from. Information obtained from news mixes with that from ads, for example." (17) These premises are illustrated in a discussion of the famous Willie Horton ad of the 1988 national election.

Chapter II examines the tactics that are used in attack campaign persuasion: identification (personal, with failed policies, apposition (verbal and visual), and guilt by association or apposition). Chapter III looks historically at patriotism and prejudice and their roles in argument. Chapter IV considers these tactics for countering attacks: launch a counterattack, anticipate an attack and pre-empt it, forewarn the audience that an attack will probably be forthcoming from one's opponent, and reframe the attack.

Part II ponders the power of political advertising to influence the news. Part III considers how the news covers campaigns and Part IV discusses argument and accountability in political discourse and speculates about its future.

Throughout, Jamieson couches her comments in a historical perspective which justifiably maintains that attack rhetoric has been part of American political discourse for decades. However, the advent of television, a medium especially suited for negative discourse, has brought the political attack to new heights.

As with Jamieson's other scholarship, this text is thoroughly researched and clearly written. Her ideas, accessible to the general reader, are timely and addressed to anyone concerned about political discourse and the future of democracy.
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Author:Coleman, Willian E., Jr.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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