The mocking of Fred

Caught in Iowa ad clutter, Thompson learns why buying Des Moines TV time is like being trapped in an airline middle seat for Christmas.

By Walter Shapiro
November 20, 2007 1:55AM (UTC)
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Most political reporters watch political spots on their computers free from any distraction that might mar the poll-tested purity of the candidate's message. But most voters (warning: shocking revelation ahead) see the ads on their television sets jumbled up with other commercials. This real-life ad clutter can lead to juxtapositions that provide subversive commentary on a candidate's vote-for-me hucksterism.

Iowa Republicans who clicked on WOI in Des Moines Monday during the 8:30 break in ABC's "Good Morning America" were treated to an uplifting 30 seconds of Fred Thompson's resonant voice and his rumpled face promising to "secure our borders and enforce the law." (You can see the spot here here, though the fundraising pitch at the end was not aired in Iowa.) The packaging problem was that the Thompson commercial was immediately and inadvertently mocked by a next-up station promo for a cooking segment: "How to avoid a Thanksgiving disaster."


Over the years, I have watched more terrible television than a dateless college freshman in a quixotic effort to see TV commercials in their native habitat. (Recently monitoring the happy-talk early evening local news in Columbia, S.C., may have permanently cost me 15 IQ points.) What this ordeal has taught me is that humor alone cuts through the ad clutter. (Michael Scherer intuited this truth in his posting earlier today on Mike Huckabee's new ad.) But remember that buying television time in Iowa before the caucuses is like booking an airline middle seat for Christmas -- you just never know who will be sitting next to you.

Walter Shapiro

Walter Shapiro, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, is an award-winning political columnist who has covered the last nine presidential campaigns. Along the way, he has worked as Salon's Washington bureau chief, as well as for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, Esquire, USA Today and, most recently, Yahoo News. He is also a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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