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NYT’s John Harwood Speaks Out Against Being Used In Karl Rove’s Anti-Obama TV Ad

After having his on-air soundbite featured in a recent anti-Obama TV ad, New York Times writer and CNBC correspondent John Harwood spoke out against what he sees as a rising tide of television journalists showing up in campaign ads without their permission.

The ad, called “Tried, was put together by Karl Rove‘s anti-Obama 501(c)(3) organization Crossroads GPS and aired more than 6,000 times in key battleground states. The beginning of the ad spot featured Harwood stating a factual observation — “The weakest job-adding quarter in two years” — live on CNBC.

Harwood wrote in the Times that this is part of a troubling pattern in electoral politics:

More and more this election year, campaign ads include footage from television news programs, further blurring the fading lines separating modern journalism and politics. The trend bothers practitioners of journalism more than those in politics.

“I thought you were particularly photogenic that day,” chuckled Karl Rove, a founder of Crossroads GPS, the Republican group that produced the ad featuring my work.

But of course that was not the reason Crossroads used the CNBC footage. They wanted to borrow a bit of credibility from the same “mainstream media” that they choose at other moments to bash as biased.

Harwood cites other instances of prominent journalists being used to lend factual credibility to campaign advertisements, including the Romney primary campaign’s use of NBC’s veteran newsman Tom Brokaw:

Fighting to fend off Newt Gingrich, the Romney campaign broadcast an ad consisting solely of Mr. Brokaw’s “Nightly News” report on a 1997 House ethics vote against Mr. Gingrich, then House speaker.

Mr. Brokaw and NBC News worried that the ad “compromised” his role as a journalist and asked that it be stopped. As they expected, the request was ignored; by Kantar’s count, the ad ran 2,225 times before Mr. Romney’s Florida victory.

Harwood also cites the Romney campaign’s recent ads featuring TV footage of New York Times columnist David Brooks, TIME Magazine’s Mark Halperin, and Bob Schieffer of CBS News talking about the negative tone of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

“This was done without our permission,” Mr. Schieffer complained on his Sunday talk show Face the Nation. “I’ll get some blowback, I’ll tell you that for sure.”

Harwood surmises that the rise of TV reporters’ images being used by campaigns is due to “the explosion of political talk on cable television. The expanded supply of available material ricochets rapidly among partisans via Twitter, Facebook and other social media, simplifying the job of ad-makers working on tight campaign deadlines.”

“It’s very easy to build an attack ad around TV news footage,” one veteran Democratic media consultant told Harwood. “You can put it together in a half-hour.”

However, Harwood admits that his Crossroads speaking part is “brief and noncontroversial,” and points to the fun fact that as a young student in 1968, he actually appeared in a campaign ad for Robert F. Kennedy after asking him a question about education policy in front of cameras.

“The major broadcast networks invest heavily in their superstar anchors, who as a result are especially sensitive to anything that could threaten their reputations and appeal to viewers,” Harwood concluded. “But they also know they had better get used to it.”

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