Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Larry Winn, Carl Kell, Judith Hoover

Degree Program

Department of Communication

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This thesis contains an analysis of apologia from the 1988 national presidential campaign which resulted from Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle's disclosure that he served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. Quayle's revelation created a "gaffe sequence" played out in the media over a period of approximately two weeks. The rhetorical situation dictated the use of an eclectic methodology to evaluate apologia generated in response to media questions about Quayle's avoidance of active military service.

Quayle's defense included minimalizing the issue through avoidance and denial during staged and spontaneous contact with the media, and also the rhetorical support of other Republicans. Ultimately, he overcame the issue by turning questions about his competence and character into questions about the media's ethos. Notwithstanding, the media's investigation of the relatively unknown Quayle pointed to the larger issue of his qualifications for national office. Although Quayle's strategy was successful, the initial gaffe raised questions about Quayle's ethos which persist to this day.

The study yielded three important insights about apologia: (1) apologia is not a single response, nor responses given in a single setting; (2) not only does apologia repair an ethos, it can also help construct an ethos in cases where the public knows little or nothing about a political figure; (3) apologia includes the rhetorical support of others. Additionally, critics must continue refining existing methodologies as they seek to understand rhetorical phenomena.


Communication | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Influence and Political Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies