The Daily Gamecock

New York Times journalist discusses political advertising

Jeremy Peters reports on media influence

Jeremy Peters, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for The New York Times, spoke to a sizeable group of students in the Capstone Campus Room Thursday night in an event co-sponsored by the Capstone Scholars Program and Student Government.

The journalist, who reports on media and advertising in politics, discussed the role of media in the current race for the Republican presidential nomination and his work as a part of the team that broke the story of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s sex scandal, for which he and the team earned the Pulitzer.

Much of Peters’ speech focused on the role of advertisements and debates in the Iowa caucus and the South Carolina primary, opening with a selection of ads targeted at evangelical Christian voters run by Rick Perry before the caucus. He also noted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee receiving critiques “featuring a shot of a windowpane that looked like a cross” in one of his ads.

Despite outspending every other candidate and Super PAC on ads in Iowa, Perry finished in fifth place in the caucus, only above Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, who did very little campaigning in the state.

“Perry’s gauzy, gleaming ads meant nothing,” Peters said.

While Perry’s extensive ad campaign was relatively unsuccessful, Peters pointed out that ads did play a significant role for another candidate.

“The reason why campaigns use attack ads is because they work,” Peters said. “(Mitt) Romney’s Super PAC’s attack ads against (Newt) Gingrich completely toppled his candidacy [in Iowa].”

While ads are important, Peters stressed the significance of debates in the current campaign.

Peters said debates are the media stage where campaigns are being won and lost. Peters pointed out that Perry’s lead started to slip after a poor performance on stage.

“People didn’t buy it when this image didn’t match up with what they were being sold in ads,” Peters said.

While debates broke Perry’s campaign, they bolstered Gingrich’s. After the former speaker of the House sternly responded to a question about his ex-wife’s allegations of his requesting an open marriage, Peters said at that moment “it became unmistakably clear that Gingrich would win South Carolina.”

“It wasn’t because of the media that Newt surged to the top of the polls; it was because of his powerful performance in the two debates preceding the primary,” Peters said.

Upon opening the floor to questions, Peters was asked about his work on the Spitzer scandal.

“We got a tip that there was a political figure in New York who had been caught up in a prostitution ring and had been traveling in Washington,” said Peters. “When we figured out that it was Spitzer, my jaw just hit the floor.”

The work at the Albany bureau following the discovery consisted of confirming that it indeed was Spitzer.

“We had a reporter who followed him for a weekend. She watched him jog in the park, fly to Washington for a press dinner — a very normal routine,” Peters said. “Then, on a Sunday night he told his family and his staff, and we broke the story on early Monday afternoon.”

SG Press Secretary CJ Lake, a second-year political science student, said the event was organized through Greg Mitchell, The New York Times’ readership program coordinator.

Lake said she was pleased with the event and turnout.

“Capstone had brought New York Times speakers before via Skype, so this was a natural extension,” said Assistant Principal of the Capstone Scholars Program David DeWeil.