Evolution and strategy shift in modern apologia: The self-defense rhetoric of William Jefferson Clinton

Richard Ashley Knight

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes President William Jefferson Clinton's self-defense rhetoric, or apologia. The study focuses on Clinton's responses to moral accusations against his character stemming from the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky cases (incidents that occurred during his presidency). William L. Benoit's Theory of Image Restoration is used to analyze Clinton's apologetic speeches over a five-year period (1994-1999). Benoit's framework consists of identifying strategies used by apologists to repair or maintain a positive image despite negative public accusations. The purpose of this study was to reveal strategies used by Clinton, how they related to the accusations against him, and the situational factors that affected his apologetic choices. Analysis reveals that Clinton enacted several strategy shifts in response to each context and accusation. While Clinton relied most heavily on Bolstering and Attacking Accusers, he employed various combinations of strategies throughout his apologetic campaign. Clinton's approach was unique considering other political figures have maintained a consistent formula for apologetic speeches. Implications for presidential rhetoric and apologia are discussed. Several directions for future research are considered, including an analysis of the ramifications Clinton's rhetoric will have for future occupants of the Oval office.