Some of the latest advertising for Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral reelection campaign is cleverly audacious, deliberately misleading — and all apparently perfectly legal.
A TV commercial that looks like Emanuel is backed by the city’s most prominent news anchor and a mailing that closely resembles the cover of Chicago magazine (right down to its logo) are among paid media pieces that have turned up in recent weeks.
Bosses of the news organizations involved have expressed concern that the ads could lead some to believe they’re supporting Emanuel’s reelection, but their lawyers tell them there’s nothing they can do about it. Federal law and FCC regulations prohibit stations from editing or refusing to broadcast candidate advertisements based on their content.
In a weeklong run that ended Monday, the TV commercial opened with a clip from a WLS-Channel 7 newscast, showing Ron Magers, top news anchor for the ABC-owned station, introducing a piece on a community college program championed by Emanuel. Also appearing in the ad were ABC 7 reporter Leah Hope and Micah Materre, news anchor for Tribune Media WGN-Channel 9.
“We reached out to the campaign and let them know that we were displeased with the use of our anchor talent,” John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7, said of the spot.
Voicing similar concern, Greg Easterly, president and general manager of WGN, said: “Legally we have no choice. Initially, we made an on-air reference that it was used without permission, [and] news management has responded to a few viewer emails.”
It’s not the first time a political commercial has raised hackles in a newsroom. NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 complained bitterly last October when a spot for Pat Quinn’s campaign for governor appropriated a clip from an investigative report about his opponent, Bruce Rauner, including the voice of NBC 5 political editor Carol Marin. But the Emanuel commercial appears to have refined the practice and taken it to a new level.
In a similar vein, a print piece that began appearing in mailboxes last week bears an unmistakable resemblance to Chicago magazine, the monthly publication owned by Tribune Publishing. Even the words on the back of the campaign mailer — “Big City. Big Challenges. Big Job.” — echo the real magazine’s cover slogan, “Big City. Big Stories.”
A casual reader might think the ad for Emanuel is a reprint from the magazine.
When Scott Smith, former director of digital strategy and development at Chicago magazine, brought the similarity to light on Twitter Friday, editor-in-chief Beth Fenner tweeted: “For the record: Chimag does NOT endorse political candidates.”