Bruce Braley for Senator, “Peep”

  • Title: “Peep”
  • Sponsor: Braley for Iowa
  • Issue of Focus: Spending, cutting pork, congressional record, senate campaign
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative campaign ad
  • Broadcast Location: Iowa
  • Release Date: June 4, 2014
  • Length: 32-second spot
  • Web Address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3lwSSTEvNU

Transcript of “Peep” Ad

Bruce Braley: I’m Bruce Braley and I approve this message.

Female Voiceover: We’ve all heard the one about pigs squealing but when Joni Ernst had the chance to do something in Iowa, we didn’t hear a peep. In the state senate Ernst never sponsored a bill to cut pork, never wrote one measure to slash spending. In fact the Iowa Republican says she backed measures to actually increase spending. Joni Ernst’s ads are hard to forget, but her record just doesn’t cut it.

Analysis of “Peep”

Nma Winnie Obike, University of Maryland

Introduction and Context

George Orwell would feel right at home in the 2014 Iowa senatorial race. Like a story taken out of one of the pages of Orwell’s famous novel – Animal Farm – the Iowa senate race has devolved into scenes of farm animals debating each other’s merit in the public sphere. Yes, indeed, Democrats are symbolized by the donkey and Republicans by the Elephant but these are not the animals involved in campaign advertising in Iowa. In the senatorial race between Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst, hogs and chicks have entered the campaign as metaphors for the candidates’ character and authenticity. On June 4, 2014, Braley released the “Peep” ad as a counter argument to Ernst’s “Squeal” ad. I argue that the “Peep” ad painted a visual portrait of inauthenticity by portraying Ernst as a chick whose persona of being a hog-castrating expert and fiscal conservative does not measure up to her record in the Iowa State Legislature.

Political authenticity has fascinated democracies for a long time. Dating as far back as ancient Greco-Roman society, Quintilian defined rhetoric as “a good person speaking well,” a remark on the character of the speaker as much as the eloquence of the speech.[1] Authenticity is at the heart of Braley’s attack ad on Ernst. Shawn Parry-Giles observed that “political authenticity derives from character concerns as candidates (and their surrogates) attempt to authenticate a candidate’s image, as political opponents attempt to invalidate that image, and as the news media serve as an arbiter of political authenticity within this image-making struggle.”[2] The “Peep” ad uses visual imagery of a chick to reinforce the message that Ernst is metaphorically “a chicken” when it comes to taking political action.

Contrary to her message of cutting “pork” and slashing wasteful government spending, the “Peep” ad inauthenticates Ernst’s fiscal conservative image. Braley’s campaign insists that she “never wrote one measure to slash spending,” thus depicting her as inconsistent. Parry-Giles surmises that consistency is one of the criteria for judging a candidate’s authenticity. If a candidate presents a story or political narrative which is inconsistent, they are often depicted as inauthentic. Parry-Giles argues that “A changing or contradictory story of the self is a primary sign of a candidate’s inauthenticity.”[3] While Ernst does not make contradictory statements, Braley does present a contradictory story of Ernst’s legislative record that makes her seem inconsistent. The Braley campaign’s assessment of Ernst’s consistency is further entrenched by the use of a chick to symbolize her political character. The chick is perhaps the smallest and most fragile of farm animals. It keeps away from predators and roams close to the mother-hen. The image of the chick in the “Peep” ad depicts a small bird afraid to speak. Instead, the chick squeaks each time the voiceover makes an accusation of inauthenticity (e.g., “she backed measures to actually increase spending”). The “Peep” ad portrays Ernst as a timid chicken who is afraid to own up to the “truth” of her inconsistencies.

The visual images used in the ad support the claim of Ernst’s inauthenticity. In her study of political cartoons, Janis Edwards argued that visual imagery can project a critique of political inauthenticity.[4] While political ads are different from political cartoons, both depend on visuals to make arguments about political character. In the “Peep” ad, not only is the visual imagery of the chick used to critique Ernst’s character, but the ad also employs bashful visual images of Ernst to reinforce the verbal message of her incompetency. As the female voiceover announced Ernst’s lack of political action in the Iowa State Senate, the ad cuts to a shot of Ernst looking downcast and slowly turning her head away from the frontal view of the camera. This editing work counters the force of direct address as if she were avoiding direct eye contact to cover up her deceitfulness.

Finally, the “Peep” ad relied on “image bites” from the “Squeal” ad to ensure direct reference to Ernst’s political character. Maria Grabe and Erik Bucy defined the image bite as “an audiovisual segment in which a candidate is shown but not necessarily heard.”[5] The image bite used in the “Peep” ad is culled from Ernst’s own uncharacteristic ad about “castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.” Her self-introductory ad portrayed a no-nonsense fiscal conservative persona through the image of pink and black spotted hogs squealing as they await castration. The pink and black spotted hogs formed an image bite when used in the “Peep” ad by the Braley campaign as it stood metonymically in place of Ernst herself. The hogs signify an image bite because they were seen but not heard; their squeals were a featured part of the original ad. The lack of squealing sounds contributed to the inauthentication of Ernst’s personal narrative. If the hogs no longer squealed, it implies Ernst has lost her ability to castrate them. Thus, the image bite of the pink and black spotted hogs reminds the audience of Ernst’s story of cutting pork and her failure to actually do so while serving in the Iowa State Legislature.

Conclusion

In closing, Iowa’s senate race has been intriguing in its resemblance to Orwell’s Animal Farm with pigs and chicks engaged in serious political debate. By highlighting her inconsistency in the “Peep” ad, Braley conducted an effective attack on Ernst’s political character. The Braley campaign’s attack on Ernst’s fiscal conservative persona becomes full-throated when his campaign manager, Sarah Benzing, observed the lack of response to the ad:  “That we still haven’t heard a peep from state Sen. Ernst’s campaign on the substance of our ad shows just how clearly her record does not live up to the image she’s portraying on TV. The facts matter, and the truth is, state Sen. Ernst talks a lot about cutting pork, but her actions are something else entirely.”[6] The Ernst campaign remained silent about her record but Americans for Prosperity, an interest group supporting Ernst, responded with yet another ad with talking chickens accusing Braley of attempting to sue over his neighbor’s trespassing chickens.[7] It remains to be seen which campaign’s claim to authenticity and their arsenal of farm animals will eventually win the votes of Iowans this November.

Notes

[1] Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, trans. James Jerome Murphy, Quintilian on the Teaching of Speaking and Writing: Translations from Books One, Two, and Ten of the Institutio Oratoria (Carbondale: SIU Press, 1987).

[2] Shawn J. Parry-Giles, “Political Authenticity, Television News, and Hillary Rodham Clinton,” ed. Roderick P. Hart and Bartholomew H. Sparrow in Politics, Discourse, and American Society (Rowan & Littlefield, 2001): 214.

[3] Parry-Giles, “Political Authenticity,” 215.

[4] Janis L. Edwards, “Presidential Campaign Cartoons and Political Authenticity: Visual Reflections in 2008,” ed Robert E. Denton in The 2008 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009): 191-208.

[5] Maria E. Grabe and Erik P. Bucy, Image Bite Politics: News and the Visual Framing of Elections (Oxford University Press, 2009): 287. For discussions of image bite politics in the 2008 elections see also, David Kaufer, Shawn J. Parry-Giles, and Beata Beigman Klebanov, “The “Image Bite,” Political Language, and the Public/Private Divide: NBC News Coverage of Hillary Clinton from Scorned Wife to Senate Candidate,” Journal of Language and Politics 11 no. 3 (2012): 336-356.Bottom of Form

[6] Susan Benzing’s remarks were covered in a newspaper article on the Iowa senate race. Sean Sullivan, “How the Iowa Senate Race became all about Hogs and Chicks,” Washington Post, June 5, 2014, accessed October 27, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/06/05/how-the-iowa-senate-race-became-all-about-hogs-and-chicks/.

[7] Americans for Prosperity, “Not Very Iowa,” Youtube, October 27, 2014, accessed October 27, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go-lMaYN8gg.