Since Friday morning, the campaign for Mitt Romney has been beaming an unusual 30-second spot into media markets across the state of Florida. It consists almost exclusively of a vintage video clip from Jan. 21, 1997, the day Newt Gingrich was sanctioned by his House colleagues after an ethics investigation.
What makes the ad striking is the content: NBC Nightly News anchor (at the time) Tom Brokaw is introducing a report that evening on Gingrich’s downfall earlier in the day. That’s all there is, and the video cllip is perfectly sized for a political ad. (Watch the video below.)
The Romney researcher who discovered the clip must have done handsprings to discover the bonus at the end: Brokaw’s kicker -- raising questions about Gingrich’s “future effectiveness” -- seems eerily prescient, even viewed 15 years later.
Romney and his “super PAC” have been whacking Gingrich for weeks over the ethics violations, part of a broader assault on their main opponent’s character.
Now, they are adding Brokaw’s considerable credibility to their case -- as a character witness to counter anyone who may have been swayed by Gingrich’s recent efforts to play down the significance of the event, which paved the way for his downfall as House speaker.
By airing what is, in effect, a mini-documentary, (the campaign calls the ad, “History Lesson.”), the Romney camp is delivering a powerful punch at a key moment in the GOP race.
The text, in full (Brokaw to camera): “Good evening. Newt Gingrich, who came to power, after all, preaching a higher standard in American politics, a man who brought down another Speaker on ethics accusations, tonight he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democrat and Republican alike. By an overwhelming vote, they found him guilty of ethics violations; they charged him a very large financial penalty, and they raised – several of them – raised serious questions about his future effectiveness.” (emphasis added).
There’s just enough time left in the ad for Romney’s quick voiceover disclaimer at the end, and what has become the campaign’s trademark, a black-and-white photo of the candidate and his wife.
It’s a heavy buy, on the last two days of in-person voting at early sites around the state. The primary is three days away.
Updated at 10:45 a.m.: NBC has formally complained to the Romney campaign about the use of the clip.
“The NBC Legal Department has written a letter to the campaign asking for the removal of all NBC News material from their campaign ads ... Similar requests have gone out to other campaigns that have inappropriately used Nightly News, Meet the Press, Today and MSNBC material,” said NBC spokeswoman Lauren Kapp.
Brokaw also issued a statement. “I am extremely uncomfortable with the extended use of my personal image in this political ad. I do no want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign,” he said.
Here’s the ad: