Shari R. Veil
Speaker and Gavel
This study analyzed the relationship between image restoration strategies and media coverage, specifically, the image restoration strategies utilized by Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 1999 in response to questions of past drug use and the ensuing media coverage during the respective campaigns. A literature review of political apologia and image restoration strategies is presented, followed by potential explanations for the extensive media coverage of the drug issue. Articles published in 7 newspapers during the respective political campaigns were retrieved and textually analyzed to determine the candidates’ image restoration strategies. The reported presidential comments were then critically analyzed to demonstrate the potential influence of image restoration strategies on the media coverage of the drug questions. Introduction During their respective campaigns, Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 1999 used multiple image restorations strategies when questioned about past drug use. Their responses to these questions provide interesting examples for political communication research and analysis. Future political candidates and their staffs may find it useful to review notable candidates' strategies and the influence of these strategies on media coverage when developing rhetoric to promote and protect the candidate’s political image. Trent and Friedenberg (2000) describe one’s political image as how voters perceive a candidate or elected official. This perception is based on “a candidate’s personal traits, job performance, and issue positions” (Denton & Stuckey, 1994, p. 7). Once an image has been established, strategies may be required to protect that image. Brinson and Benoit (1996) recognize that “when a reputation is threatened, individuals and organizations are motivated to present an image defense: explanations, justifications, rationalizations, apologies, or excuses for behavior” (p. 30). Sellnow, Ulmer, and Snider (1998) agree, “[Individuals] must engage in a discourse with their public that provides an adequate justification for whatever actions are under scrutiny” (p. 62). It is in this discourse that political candidates may utilize apologia or image restoration strategies to defend their image against overzealous questions and accusations. While candidates cannot dictate the media’s coverage of certain issues, by taking into account other potential influencers, one can analyze media 1 Veil: To Answer, or Not to Answer That is the Question of the Hour: I Published by Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato, 2005 Speaker & Gavel 2005 59 Speaker and Gavel, Vol 42 (2005) www.dsr-tka.org/ coverage and determine if image restoration strategies can also influence the media. Research Questions To determine the potential influence of image restoration strategies on media coverage, three relevant research questions were asked. RQ1) What image restoration strategies were utilized by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in response to questions about past drug use? RQ2) Was there a difference in the amount of media coverage of the drug issue pertaining to the candidates? RQ3) Is there a relationship between the image restoration strategies utilized and the media coverage of the candidates’ responses to questions of past drug use? To investigate these questions, a literature review of political apologia and image restoration strategies is presented, followed by potential explanations for the extensive media coverage of the drug issue. Retrieved articles are then textually analyzed to determine candidates’ image restoration strategies. Finally, the media coverage in correlation to the image restoration strategies used is analyzed to provide implications of the study and offer suggestions for future research.