8/12/2005

"Ashley's Story" most expensive ad distributed during the election campaign

LYNN FAULKNER : My wife, Wendy, was murdered by terrorists on Sept. 11.

(On screen: Lynn Faulkner; Mason, Ohio)

ANNOUNCER [v/o]: The Faulkners' daughter Ashley closed up emotionally. But when President George W. Bush came to Lebanon, Ohio, she went to see him as she had with her mother four years before.

(On screen: Lebanon, Ohio)

LINDA PRINCE : He walked toward me and I said, 'Mr. President, this young lady lost her mother in the World Trade Center.'

(On screen: Linda Prince; Family Friend)

ASHLEY FAULKNER : And he turned around and he came back and he said, 'I know that's hard. Are you all right?'

(On screen: Ashley Faulkner; Mason, Ohio)

LINDA PRINCE : Our president took Ashley in his arms and just embraced her. And it was at that moment that we saw Ashley's eyes fill up with tears.

ASHLEY FAULKNER : He's the most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK.

LYNN FAULKNER : What I saw was what I want to see in the heart and in the soul of the man who sits in the highest elected office in our country.

ANNOUNCER [v/o]: Progress for America Voter Fund is responsible for the content of this message.

On screen: Newspaper headline: Bush comforts daughter Of 9/11 victim; www.AshleysStory.com; Paid For By Progress For America Voter Fund

This ad produced by the conservative Progress for America Voter Fund has gained media attention for two reasons: (1.) It is probably the most expensive ad produced and distributed during the election campaign; and (2.) the ad has earned praise for its effectiveness from analysts and political partisans on both sides (Geraghty, 2004). "Ashley's Story" cost close to $14.2 million and the Progress for America Voter Fund buttressed the ad with a multi-media campaign: E-mails, automated phone calls, and 2.3 million brochures (Keen and Memmott, 2004). The ad has its own Web site and a Google search (November 7, 2004) brings up approximately 50 hits that included blogs, newspaper articles, and references to Ashley Faulkner and her family

The ad describes 16-year-old Ashley as "closed-up emotionally" until she encountered President Bush on a rope line in Lebanon , Ohio , on May 4, 2004 ..The ad suggests that President Bush through his spontaneous gesture healed Ashley Faulkner with the full embrace he gave her after learning of her mother's death.

The Heart and Soul of Bush

"Most polls show that the voters think Bush is a warmer person than his opponent. The ad is meant to reinforce that feeling in voters' minds" (Memmott, 2004, October 18). To reinforce Bush's warm image, the ad shows two clips of Bush moving among enthusiastic crowds in a small town-- perhaps Lebanon , Ohio . We can imagine Ashley waiting to catch her glimpse of the President whom she had seen with her now-deceased mother during the 2000 campaign (Rairden, 2004). The camera lingers over the central image: the photograph of the hug. We see Bush's face first in close-up; then the camera pans down to show Ashley's head nestled against the president's blue shirt. Lynn Faulkner interprets the photograph for us in the ad: "What I saw was what I want to see in the heart and soul of the man who sits in the highest-elected office in our country." Curiously, Faulkner never specifies what he sees, as if we collectively intuit the president's goodness and compassion.

Keep Us Safe

The ad uses several techniques to remind voters of how they felt about Bush after September 11th when he earned 85-90% approval ratings (Historical Bush approval ratings, 2004). Our memories are jogged through Lynn Faulkner's words as he describes how his wife was "murdered" by terrorists. Toward the end of the ad, we see Bush embracing a firefighter during the aftermath of 9/11. This photograph has been altered; a fuzzy transparent dark frame focuses our attention on the brighter figure of the president reaching out his arms to the New York fireman in a tableau reminiscent of paintings of Christian saints. This 9/11image also reinforces the most-repeated line of the ad: "He's the most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make me safe" (Memmott, 2004, October 18). Ashley speaks this line in front of hazy backdrop of green foliage, so we know that now she is safe in America because of President Bush. The last shot of the ad shows a formally-attired GW Bush looking down as if his head is in bowed in prayer, perhaps seeking aid from God to keep his nation safe.



PARC Analysis "Ashley's Story": "'

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