Tom Brokaw, the Mr. Clean of American political advertising

Tom Brokaw is upset that an anti-Newt Gingrich ad put together by the Mitt Romney camp uses him. The 30-second spot consists almost exclusively of an ancient bit of footage of the NBC News anchor introducing a segment in 1997 about the speaker’s ethics problems. Have a look.

Brokaw — the guy looked sweet in that clip! Smooth, strong, stout. What could he possibly be complaining about? Well, take it from him:

“I am extremely uncomfortable with the extended use of my personal image in this political ad. I do not want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign.”

Just a question here: How would it be possible to retroactively compromise Tom Brokaw’s “role as a journalist”? Such a feat would require going back 15 years and proving that Brokaw and his producers put out that footage to serve it up as fodder for a political campaign in 2012. That’s more reporting than I care to undertake.

Jeff Greenfield provides another reason for Brokaw to de-saddle his high horse and delight in the virility of this excellent throwback anchor moment. On CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday, Greenfield made this very reasonable point:

One of the things we always criticize about political ads is how blatantly false they are: They’re overproduced; they use bad pictures; they use danger music; they distort facts. Now here’s an ad that simply is taking a news report and running with it. So apart from the awkwardness for Tom Brokaw or if any of us find ourselves in an ad, it almost seems that given the fair use doctrine of copyright that that’s not only maybe an appropriate thing to do but actually a lot straighter than distorting facts and throwing up an ad that libels an opponent.

We could be watching the emergence of a new standard here: Tom Brokaw, the Mr. Clean of American political advertising.

Think about it. From now on, in order to level a hit on your political opponent, you are required to dig up footage of Tom Brokaw reciting your talking points. If you cannot find an instance in which Brokaw pronounced on the matter, it’s an illegitimate ad. It’ll spawn a whole new vernacular in the world of political advertising: Have you Brokawed that spot yet?

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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