Lawson campaign pulls 'Freeman' ad

Staff WriterNovember 2, 2010 

— The campaign of Republican B.J. Lawson claimed Monday that the familiar-sounding voice in his new attack ad was that of Morgan Freeman, a Hollywood star with such gravitas that he has twice been cast in the role of God.

Not so fast, Freeman said.

After being contacted by the campaign of incumbent Democratic Rep. David Price, Freeman quickly released a statement denying he recorded the ad in question. His spokesman said the actor is now considering a lawsuit against Lawson for misappropriating his name.

"These people are lying," Freeman said, according to a statement released by his public relations firm in Los Angeles. "I have never recorded any campaign ads for B.J. Lawson, and I do not support his candidacy. And no one who represents me ever has ever authorized the use of my name, voice or any other likeness in support of Mr. Lawson or his candidacy."

Price's campaign wasted no time trying to score political points from the dust-up, dubbing it "The Shawshank Deception" in a news release.

Reached at his home in Chapel Hill, Price said he never thought for a minute that the voice in the ad was that of the famous actor who has starred in at least 87 films, including "Glory," "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Million Dollar Baby."

"It's an interesting voice, but it never occurred to us it was really Morgan Freeman," Price said. "They need to make this right, and that starts with a sincere apology to Mr. Freeman."

Lawson could not be reached for comment, but his campaign worked hard late Monday to pull versions of the 30-second ad from radio, television and the Internet.

Eventually the Republican's campaign issued a written apology.

"This is terribly unfortunate, and we apologize profusely to Morgan Freeman for what has happened," Lawson said, according to the statement. "This is obviously not something we ever would want to misrepresent."

'Taken advantage of'

The embarrassing reversal came just hours after the GOP campaign issued a news release trumpeting the voice in the ad as that of the Academy Award winner.

"Barbra Streisandwouldn't do this, but Morgan Freeman doesn't have a problem cutting ads against Washington insiders or he wouldn't do it," said Martin Avila, Lawson's campaign manager. "People shouldn't be so shocked that someone like Mr. Freeman would think outside of the left-right, red vs. blue dynamic. This election is about regular people asking basic questions."

Stan Rosenfield, Freeman's spokesman, said it is not unusual for voice actors to try to impersonate Freeman's voice and cadence in political ads. Freeman has actually recorded some ads for candidates and issues he believes in, including a 2008 spot for Barack Obama.

But Freeman, who was on location Monday at a film shoot in Florida, was adamant that he had never recorded an ad for Lawson, Rosenfield said. "I'd like to see them produce one shred of evidence that it is him," Rosenfield said.

Avila said Lawson's campaign has a copy of its contract with M.E.I. Political, the California firm that produced the ad, saying the voice is indeed that of Morgan Freeman. After Freeman's statement, however, Avila conceded the possibility that his campaign had been hoodwinked.

"We paid for Morgan Freeman," Avila said. "We feel tremendously taken advantage of. This is not what we want to be talking about the day before voters go to the polls."

Benjamin Mathis, president of M.E.I. Political, could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at his Universal Studios office said he was "very busy."

Mathis, who specializes in making ads for GOP candidates, has previously worked on such television series as "Benson," "Blossom" and "The Golden Girls," according to the firm's website.

Avila said Mathis' firm repeatedly indicated the voice in the ad would be that of the real Morgan Freeman.

"We thought it was a great opportunity to put together a nice message," Avila said. "It's unfortunate that [they] would misrepresent their offering like this just to make some quick money."

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698

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