A Tennessee Republican party TV commercial likens Democratic state House candidate Gloria Johnson to departed University of Tennessee football Coach Lane Kiffin.
The 30-second spot uses a News Sentinel video of Johnson — without the audio — as a backdrop while a narrator declares “political activist Gloria Johnson” is running for the state House with help from “her liberal special interest friends” who “support higher taxes and bigger government.”
The reference is to unions that have contributed to Johnson’s campaign, according to Adam Nickas, executive director of the state party, although the ad itself doesn’t mention unions.
At the end of the commercial, the narrator asks, “What’s Gloria Johnson’s strategy? Take the money and run.”
The video then changes to a picture of Kiffin, who was UT football coach for the 2009 season, then left for the University of Southern California.
“Hasn’t Knoxville seen this before?” asks the narrator.
Johnson said she had not seen the ad, though her mother was “upset about it” and some students in school classes she teaches have asked her about it.
“Quite frankly, it sounds ridiculous,” she said. “They’ve spent two times more money attacking me than I’ve raised.”
Her Republican opponent, Gary Loe, said he had nothing to do with the ad, which was run as an “independent expenditure” by the state GOP.
News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy said the video used in the ad is copyrighted and the Republican party did not seek permission to use it. However, he also noted that the “Fair Use Doctrine” allows use of copyrighted material for some limited purposes.
“Our corporate attorney thinks a ‘cease and desist’ letter might be futile; and in any event, the election would be over before a fight could be brought to resolution,” McElroy wrote in his blog. Still, he referred to the party using “slimy tactics.”
“The ploy, nonetheless, is particularly lame. Honorable campaigns have, in the past, asked permission to draw on content from the News Sentinel, and we have told them they are welcome to quote from what we publish but may not directly lift our material. My guess is that the GOP figured we wouldn’t OK the use of our video to deride a candidate, so why even ask,” McElroy wrote.
Invited to comment, Nickas sent this email:
“Does the Knoxville News Sentinel think that the Barack Obama campaign, which Gloria Johnson supports, is also slimy and dishonorable, as your editor describes us, when they use media under the Fair Use Doctrine? We understand that Gloria Johnson is the newspaper’s preferred candidate, but Fair Use is in fact a practice that even Mr. McElroy admits is perfectly proper.”