Obama for President, “The Facts about President Obama’s Energy Record”

  • Ad Title: “The Facts About President Obama’s Energy Record”
  • Ad Sponsor: Obama for America
  • Issue of Focus: President Obama’s Energy Policy
  • Type of Advertisement: Issue Advertisement
  • Broadcast Locations: Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina
  • Release Date: January 19, 2012 on TV, Posted on YouTube on January 18, 2012
  • Length: 31 seconds
  • Web Address of the Advertisement: http://youtu.be/sq3GGwgV7R0

“The Facts About Obama’s Energy Record” Script

(Transcribed by Yvonne Wanda Slosarski) 

Male voiceover: “Secretive oil billionaires attacking President Obama with ads fact-checkers say are not tethered to the facts, while independent watchdogs call this President’s record on ethics unprecedented, and America’s clean energy industry, 2.7 million jobs and expanding rapidly. For the first time in 13 years, our dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent.  President Obama kept his promise to toughen ethics rules and strengthen America’s energy economy.”

Barack Obama: “I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.”

Analysis of “The Facts About President Obama’s Energy Record”

Yvonne Wanda Slosarski, University of Maryland

 Ad Context

This is President Obama’s first 2012 TV ad, and it began airing on January 19, 2012 in six key swing states, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, all of which went to Obama in the 2008 election (Peters 2012). Aside from starting the 2012 TV ad cycle for the president, this ad responds to an attack on Mr. Obama leveled in an ad produced by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a super PAC founded and funded by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch (Overby 2010).

Here’s the APF ad:

AFP aired the 60 second spot ad on January 18, 2012 in the same six key swing states in which Obama later aired his rebuttal. The AFP ad attacks Obama for backing a loan for Solyndra, a solar panel company that received a federal guarantee on a loan and later filed for bankruptcy (Gore and Kiely 2011).

The AFP ad depicts Obama as a sneaky politician who uses American workers as “pawns” in his “political games” that give taxpayer money to his alternative energy industry friends. In the ad, shaded pictures of a scheming Obama abound, which serve to question the President’s ethics as well as his energy policy.

Linking jobs and energy make sense in an election year in which unemployment is at 8.5 percent and gas prices are at $3.45/gallon (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012). These are critical issues that both Obama’s opponents and the President must address in 2012. 

Ad Assumptions

“The Facts About Obama’s Energy Record” builds pro-Obama arguments upon several assumptions. It begins with the premise that objective facts exist and are best gathered by uninterested parties. The ad juxtaposes “secretive oil billionaires” against Obama with “independent watchdog groups” that laud the president. The underlying assumption is that independent organizations’ “fact-based” claims are more credible than those of interested parties.

In addition, the ad relies on an assumed link between domestically produced energy and national prosperity. This assumption dictates that dependence on foreign oil is detrimental, as it leads to undesirable consequences, while an independent energy supply leads to economic growth and job security. Such logic also assumes that oil dependence is directly related to the president and his public policy.

Finally, another important assumption for “The Facts” ad links Obama’s character with his public policy. Although in contemporary American politics, judgments of policy positions are often privileged over judgments of character (McGee 1978), voters are often more equipped to judge a candidate’s character than to judge specific policy positions (Parry-Giles 2010). 

Ad Content – Secretive Oil Billionaires

While most of the rebuttals to AFP’s attack are indirect in this ad, the opening sequence confronts AFP directly. As the words “Secretive oil billionaires attacking President Obama” appear on the screen and are voiced by the male narrator, ominous music quietly plays in the background. The clearly focused, white words on the black background slowly move toward the audience. This movement invites the audience to participate in making meaning from the AFP attack (Lancioni 1996). The white letters on the black background, however, suggest that there really is only one meaning and that there is no gray area in AFP’s claims. It is black and white truth; these are oil billionaires whose assets are threatened by Obama’s environmentally-sound energy policies. AFP’s lies are punctuated by dark colors and scary sounds.

AFP’s Solyndra ad appears in the next shot, but it is distant and out of focus. This suggests that the same is true of the attack ad: that it is a far cry from the truth. What is clear is that AFP’s claims are “not tethered to the facts,” as these words appear on the screen and are reinforced by the verbal narration, which assures the audience that “fact-checkers” (rather than Obama’s campaign staff) exposed the lies and uncovered the truth. Again, the white words on the black screen, moving closer to the audience with the hazy AFP ad in the background, suggest that we can really only derive one meaning from the AFP attack; secretive oil billionaires are attacking our president for their own personal gain. Their character is impugned; Obama’s character is exalted.

Ad Content – Visions of an Ethical and Hardworking President

Through the interrelationships between the visual, verbal, and aural elements, this ad links President Obama’s character with his policies. Throughout the ad, we see visions of our ethical president working hard in the full light of public scrutiny.

Obama is depicted in a photograph of what appears to be a meeting as the narrator explains that “independent watchdogs call this President’s record on ethics unprecedented.” The music is no longer ominous, but rather is hopeful and inspiring. The words “President Obama’s Record on Ethics” and “Unprecedented” appear during the narration in white, with the photograph of Obama as their backdrop. Obama is seated and has an open file folder on his lap, and light shines upon the folder. The camera is set at the same level as the president—sitting in his chair in the Oval Office—suggesting that the audience is invited to witness him making such ethically-sound decisions. The audience is situated slightly behind the president to suggest that Obama is not engaged in political posing, but rather is busy working ethically, which we can observe as we watch unobtrusively over his shoulder. Obama’s brightly lit file folder is significant because in AFP’s attack ad, the accusations against Obama visually unfold quickly on a clandestine file folder. In that sense, the slow movement of the camera toward the photograph of Obama’s file folder is also significant because it invites the audience to participate in the creation of meaning (Lancioni 1996) and gives them enough time to do so. Obama as the bearer of truth is portrayed optimistically through visual markers of whiteness, audible tunes of inspiration, and bright rays of light that spotlight his goodness and ethical soundness that are juxtaposed against the dark lies of AFP.

We see Obama hard at work, captured by still photographs several more times in the ad. First, as Obama signs a document at his desk, he does not look at the camera and instead we watch him work. Again, in the final clip before Obama’s endorsement, we see the president, sleeves rolled up so he can properly work, with two professionals in a field of solar panels as far as the eye can see. Finally, we encounter a still shot of Obama in front of a navy blue backdrop looking ahead. The camera is very slowly moving toward him. On the screen appear the words, “Approved by Barack Obama. Paid for by Obama for America.”  We then hear the president say, “I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.”

The audience watches the president work in the bright light of transparency, and is positioned in the end to see that the president makes his own claims, by paying for his own advertisements, unlike the secretive oil billionaires hiding behind their super PAC. 

Ad Content – Energy Economy 

The ad argues that the economy is improving through Obama’s effort to diversify our energy options. We see two men in hardhats working on solar panels on a beautiful sunny day. The men are working and not looking at the camera, suggesting that these images are not tethered to politics, but we are instead positioned to see first-hand the connection between energy and the economy.

Next, we are guided through windmills churning and solar panels as the narrator and captions tell us that we are witnessing “America’s clean energy industry.” The solar panels showcase claims of “Clean-Energy American Jobs ‘expanding rapidly.’”

After showcasing America’s alternative energy, the ad takes viewers to witness a woman, dressed professionally, pumping gas into her car with ease. This, again, visually links the economy and energy with Obama’s forward-looking vision of energy independence. As we watch the woman pump gas into her car, the narrator tells us, “for the first time in 13 years . . . America’s Dependence on Foreign Oil below 50 percent mark,” as viewers are transported to an oil rig in a serene body of water. A red arrow descends, which visually suggests a move away from oil at the same time that the rig suggests drilling for more oil. The ad thus argues that President Obama’s diverse energy policies not only move the nation away from an oil-dependent society but also serve as the foundation of a strong economy.

Who is Talking About the Ad and the Issue

The Obama Campaign

“President Obama has taken steps to make us energy independent and create an economy that’s built to last… Yet, conservative groups funded by big oil are spending millions trying to distort the President’s record.”

Koch Industries, Inc

“While the Obama 2012 campaign pays political consultants to create misleading ads and talking points, Koch employs nearly 50,000 American workers who create value every day and contribute to the economic prosperity of their communities and our nation.”


The New York Times

“Sharply defensive tone toward a very specific target. Without mentioning them by name, it takes on Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative businessmen who have opposed Mr. Obama through the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.”



“President Obama’s first 2012 campaign ad misleads on ethics, ‘clean-energy’ jobs and U.S. dependence on oil imports.”


Works Cited

Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2012. “Regional and State Unemployment Summary.” January 24. Accessed March 10, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.nr0.htm.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2012. “Average Gas Prices in the Los Angeles Area – January 2012.” March 2. Accessed March 10, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/ro9/cpilosa_energy.htm.

Gore, D’Angelo and Eugene Keily. 2011. “Obama’s Solyndra Problem.” FactCheck.org, October 7. Accessed March 10, 2011. http://www.factcheck.org/2011/10/obamas-solyndra-problem/.

Lacioni, Judith. 1996. “The Rhetoric of the Frame: Revisioning Archival Photographs in The Civil War.” Western Journal of Communication 60(4): 397-414.

McGee, Michael Calvin. 1978. “‘Not Men but Measures’: The Origins and Import of an Ideological Principle.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 64(2): 141-154.

Overby, Peter. 2010. “Who’s Raising Money for the Tea Party Movement?” NPR, February 19, 2010. Accessed March 9, 2012. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123859296.

Parry-Giles, Trevor. 2010. “Resisting a ‘Treacherous Piety’: Issues, Images, and Public Policy Deliberation in Presidential Campaigns.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 13: 37-63.

Peters, Jeremy. 2012. “The Caucus; Obama Ad Stands Out for its Timing and Target.” New York Times, January 19. Accessed March 9, 2012. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04EFDB1330F93AA25752C0A9649D8B63&scp=1&sq=Obama+2012+facts+ad&st=nyt.