The Hill reports a strange story in which NBC and its former evening news anchorman, Tom Brokaw, are demanding that Mitt Romney’s campaign take down an ad in Florida that features Tom Brokaw delivering the news. The news Tom is delivering is that the House found Speaker Gingrich guilty of unethical behavior and fined him. Here’s the YouTube version of the ad:
So, you may ask, what exactly is wrong with a candidate using a segment of a newscast to present a piece of relevant history it wants voters to learn from the ad? The fact is, thousands of political campaign ads routinely use news headlines, highlighted quotes, charts, photos and everything else the media prints or broadcasts all the time. And thousands of blog articles routinely use snippets of the same media every day under well recognized fair use policies.
Is there something factually wrong or morally unethical about the ad? If there is, I can’t figure it out. The entire point of the ad seems to be to remind viewers of the uncontested and widely reported fact that a rival candidate, a former Speaker of the House, was cited and fined by his own colleagues for ethical violations. Did this not happen?
But NBC and Tom Brokaw don’t want the Romney people to run the ad. Why? They don’t claim the Brokaw broadcast was in error, or misleadingly edited, or later rebutted, or taken out of context, or is any way untruthful. The ad does not claim or suggest that NBC or Mr. Brokaw have a position one way or another about the choice for the GOP nomination today. So how is the Romney campaign’s use of this historic footage objectionable in any way?
Sadly, NBC’s reasoning is not very convincing. According to The Hill:
“I am extremely uncomfortable with the extended use of my personal image in this political ad,” Brokaw said in a statement. “I do no want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign.”
NBC’s legal department said it had written a letter to Romney’s campaign asking that it remove all NBC News material from the campaign’s ads. NBC added that it has issued similar requests when other campaigns have “inappropriately used Nightly News, Meet the Press, Today and MSNBC material.”
Well, boo hoo, Tom. Your job was to report the news. You did. How is reshowing what you reported compromising you in any way? The ad shows you doing your job. The fact that the news from back then has become politically relevant in a hot political campaign doesn’t change a thing. And it’s not for you, Tom Brokaw, to determine what news may or may not be used by political candidates to explain their positions. And what, NBC, is “inappropriate” here?
You’d think the media would, for once, praise a candidate for putting out a factually correct, undoctored recording of the news as a means to reveal the historical truth in a political ad. But Tom Brokaw is “extremely uncomfortable,” not because there’s anything false about the ad but because, I suspect, it shows the media doing its job at a time when NBC doesn’t want to remind GOP voters about that, and just after Brian Williams in the last debate did everything he could to cower in a foxhole. Get out of the foxhole, or go home.