CNN's Costello, Guest Boost 'Effective,' 'Very Moving' Democratic Ads

Liberal anchor Carol Costello shamelessly touted two ads from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on Wednesday's CNN Newsroom. Costello turned to a guest who works for a "group that creates television and radio ads," but failed to mention that his firm mainly deals with Democratic candidates. She prompted him to describe why Clinton's "ad is so effective." Later, Costello heralded the ad from the Sanders campaign: "If you watch the whole ad, it actually gives you goosebumps. It's very moving." The ad consultant replied, "It's a beautiful ad."

The anchor led into the segment by playing a clip of NBC's Jimmy Fallon making fun of Marco Rubio over an "ad that featured an opening image — not of the United States of America, but of Canada," as she put it. She remarked that Fallon "exaggerated a little, but it was funny." She then turned to her guest: "J.J. Balaban — he's a partner with The Campaign Group that creates television and radio ads."

The New York Times, in a May 2013 article on Balaban's wedding, noted that "The Campaign Group, a political advertising firm in Philadelphia...helps create television, radio and Internet ad campaigns for Democratic candidates." However, Costello apparently didn't think this detail was important enough to mention during the segment.
                    
The CNN journalist first asked, "How does that happen, when somebody puts together an ad for Marco Rubio and puts Vancouver, Canada in, instead of the United States?" Balaban responded that "it's just sloppy work by her (sic) ad maker. It's cutting corners...using the wrong stock footage. And I'm sure they're very embarrassed." She continued by playing a clip from the Hillary Clinton ad and asked her "why do you think this is ad is so effective" question.

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The consultant answered, in part, that "what's really striking about this ad is that she's really highlighting her strengths, in terms of her foreign policy. One of the key goals of any campaign is to define the stakes of the election, and she's basically defining the stakes as who can be the best commander-in-chief — which, interestingly, is one of her strengths; and is considered one of Bernie Sanders's weaknesses."

Costello then played a soundbite from a pro-Jeb Bush super PAC's ad that featured former President George W. Bush. Balaban didn't directly criticize the ad, but zeroed in on how the super PAC "has spent $60 million — you know, an ungodly amount of money — and it's gotten Jeb Bush into fourth place in New Hampshire and sixth place in Iowa....it just doesn't really seem like it has the right tone of what the Republican primary electorate is looking for this year."

The anchor and her guest ended the segment with their gushing over the Bernie Sanders ad, which features "the daughter of Eric Garner, who died after police put him in a choke hold here in New York."

The full transcript of the J.J. Balaban segment from the February 17, 2016 edition of CNN Newsroom:

CAROL COSTELLO: As primary day draws near in South Carolina, voters are being bombarded by the presidential candidates with TV ads, Internet ads, robo-calls — you name it. Some are effective. Others are just — well, they're just strange, like this Marco Rubio 'Morning Again' ad that featured an opening image — not of the United States of America, but of Canada. Comedian Jimmy Fallon wasted no time mocking the candidate.

[CNN Graphic: "Candidates Unleash Ads Ahead Of S.C. Vote; Comedians Mock Rubio Ad Featuring Canada"]

JIMMY FALLON (from NBC's The Tonight Show): Some of the footage used in the ad is actually not footage of America. Take a look at the very first clip. This is real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER: It's morning again in America.

FALLON: Stop, stop, stop the clip there. That's Vancouver, Canada. (audience laughs and applauds) That is Vancouver. Yeah. It just got worse from there. Take a look at this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER: It's morning again in America. Today, more men and women are out of work than ever before in our nation's history. (shows clips of Paris, the pyramids in Egypt, and Oz from The Wizard of Oz)

FALLON: Ah, come on! That's Oz. That's Oz. That is Oz. That's not even a real place. (audience cheers and applauds)

COSTELLO: (laughs) Okay. So he exaggerated a little, but it was funny. Seriously, though, what does it take to — to put together a really good ad campaign — one that's effective with voters?

Joining me now:  J.J. Balaban — he's a partner with The Campaign Group that creates television and radio ads. Welcome.

J.J. BALABAN, PARTNER, THE CAMPAIGN GROUP: Hi. Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: First of all, how does that happen, when somebody puts together an ad for Marco Rubio and puts Vancouver, Canada in, instead of the United States?

BALABAN: It's just sloppy work by her (sic) ad maker. It's cutting corners instead of — you know, using the wrong stock footage. And I'm sure they're very embarrassed.

COSTELLO: I'm sure they are.

Okay. Let's take a look at a couple of campaign ads. I want to show our viewers an ad from the Clinton campaign—

BALABAN: Sure—

COSTELLO: That you say highlights her strengths. Let's watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER (from Hillary Clinton presidential campaign ad): She's always stood strong to get the job done. Hillary Clinton — she stood up to China, and spoke out on women's rights; went toe-to-toe with Russia on human rights. The drug and insurance companies spent millions against her. But Hillary didn't quit until eight million children got health care.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've never been called a quitter, and I won't quit on you—

COSTELLO: Okay. So, J.J., why do you think that this ad is so effective?

BALABAN: Well, look, I represent a number of female candidates, and there's no question that when women run for office, they're judged by different standards. She's running to be the first female commander-in-chief. And what's really striking about this ad is that she's really highlighting her strengths, in terms of her foreign policy. One of the key goals of any campaign is to define the stakes of the election, and she's basically defining the stakes as who can be the best commander-in-chief — which, interestingly, is one of her strengths; and is considered one of Bernie Sanders's weaknesses.

COSTELLO: Okay — onto the next ad. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Bush super PAC, Right to Rise USA, has spent more than $60 million on ads. That's more than any other campaign or super PAC. So here's one of their ads.

[CNN Graphic: "Ad Wars Heat Up Ahead Of South Carolina; Pro-Bush Super PAC Shells Out Cash For Ads"]

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH (from Right to Rise USA ad): The first job of the president is to protect America. Our next president must be prepared to lead. I know Jeb. I know his good heart and his strong backbone. Jeb will unite our country. He knows how to bring the world together against terror. And he knows when tough measures must be taken. Experience and judgment count in the Oval Office. Jeb Bush is a leader who will keep our country safe.

COSTELLO: All right. So, of course, that's specifically for South Carolina, where the — George W. Bush is very well liked. Is that effective?

BALABAN: Well, I guess it depends if you think that South Carolinians didn't know that Jeb had the support of his own brother. (Costello laughs) I mean, I guess the fundamental question is, it seems like the Republican primary electorate has been very clear this year: they want change, and they hate Washington. And so, by using President Bush, it seems to be someone that doesn't exactly represent change, and does represent Washington.

As you said, Right To Rise has spent $60 million — you know, an ungodly amount of money — and it's gotten Jeb Bush into fourth place in New Hampshire and sixth place in Iowa. I mean, I guess this is — this is kind of what they're down to; and maybe, it will work. But it just doesn't really seem like it has the right tone of what the Republican primary electorate is looking for this year.

COSTELLO: Yeah, interesting — and we're just watching another ad by Right To Rise and everybody is familiar with that one, with the boots and Marco Rubio.

But I want to move on to one for Bernie Sanders — because he's fighting for the minority vote, right? So Bernie Sanders's campaign just released an ad featuring the daughter of Eric Garner, who died after police put him in a choke hold here in New York. Let's watch.

[CNN Graphic: "Sanders Ad Features Daughter Of Eric Garner"]

ERICA GARNER (from Bernie Sanders presidential campaign ad): I believe Bernie Sanders is a protester.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable.

GARNER: He's not scared to go up against the criminal justice system. He's not scared.

SANDERS: I want to see an America—

COSTELLO: Okay, so we can jump out of this, but you get the gist. If you watch the whole ad, it actually gives you goosebumps. It's very moving. So, will an ad like this be effect—

BALABAN: It's beautiful—

COSTELLO: Go ahead.

BALABAN: Look, no, no — it's a — it's a beautiful ad. I think the question is that that's actually a two-minute ad. Most political ads are 30 seconds long. That's two minutes — so it's four times as expensive. The ad doesn't even mention Bernie Sanders until about 80 seconds into the ad. That's really expecting a lot of voters and viewers — to kind of expect them to hang in.

Now, it is a beautiful story, and it is unbelievable moving. The question is, in a presidential campaign, sometimes ads are about moving voters. Sometimes, they're about something else. In this case, I think this ad is more about something else. It's — one, about appealing to donors, so that they'll give money to Bernie Sanders. Two, it's about sending the message in the media and other things that basically say — hey, Bernie Sanders is making a play for the African American vote, which is understandable. But my understanding is this ad actually isn't running a ton in South Carolina — which makes sense, again, given that it's a two-minute long ad.

COSTELLO: Oh, yeah — because I thought the same thing you did. My wonderful producer Bethany sent me that ad; and I'm like, who's this for? And then, finally Bernie Sanders popped up. So I—

BALABAN: Right. It's an ad for Eric Garner's — yeah. It's an ad for Eric Garner's wife more than for Bernie Sanders — sorry, his daughter. Pardon me.

COSTELLO: His daughter — yeah.

Thanks so much for being with me, J.J. Balaban. It's fascinating. Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center