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The Rich, Velvety History Of Fake Morgan Freeman Narrating Campaign Ads

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/02/2016 Jason Linkins
ATHENA IMAGE © Jason LaVeris via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

A new ad supporting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination is set to drop in South Carolina, featuring the vocal stylings of actor Morgan Freeman. In keeping with the campaign's shifting focus on wooing black and Latino voters, the ad highlights Clinton's past work in communities of color.

But what's really notable here is that finally we have an ad that features the real Morgan Freeman, instead of a Morgan Freeman imitator. As it turns out, America has a rich, sonorous, authoritative yet comforting history of people who are not technically Morgan Freeman nevertheless showing up in campaign ads to lend them that famous Freeman gravitas.

I've previously written about the history of Morgan Freeman imitators doing their thing in political ads, and am happy to return to this vibrant bit of Americana on this occasion. Enjoy.

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Everyone knows that if you want to really class up your #brand, you've just got to bring in Morgan Freeman and his much-beloved dulcet tones and have him lay down those sensuous but sincere vocal tracks for which he's best known. But what happens if you're some obscure political figure and you're running for governor of Massachusetts and your polling numbers peaked at 8 percent and have steadily slid since? Well, if you're Saturn Partners co-founder Jeff McCormick, you reach for the next-best thing -- Fake Morgan Freeman.

And then you cut an ad that has EVERYTHING. Nelson Mandela footage! Nelson Mandela quotes! "Hey, Jeff! Jeff! Hey! Here's an idea!" said whoever helped McCormick with this. "Let's throw one of those fake, green-band movie trailer things right at the top!" And so they did. 

 

Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible, until it is done." Since moving to Boston with $800 in his pocket, Jeff McCormick helped build successful companies, like Boston Duck Tours, and Constant Contact, creating thousands of jobs. Now, as the outsider running for governor, Jeff McCormick is the only candidate willing to fight the status quo. Sometimes, an opportunity for change can seem impossible. But for Jeff McCormick, that's the greatest opportunity there is.

 

This isn't Fake Morgan Freeman's first time at the rodeo. Back in 2010, an ad from "Friends of [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker," attacking his opponent, Tom Barrett, was released, featuring Fake Morgan Freeman doing voiceover. As Abe Sauer reported at the time, the agency that produced the ad said that "there was no conscious decision to use the talent because he sounded like Morgan Freeman, we chose him because he always does a great job of delivering a message because he is a very talented announcer." By "talent," they probably meant, "sounds a lot like Morgan Freeman." Chances are, the idea got in their head because the ad had to do with a promise Barrett had made about sewage, and someone remembered Freeman narrating Andy DuFresne's crawl through "a river of shit" from "The Shawshank Redemption."

Later that same year, Fake Morgan Freeman showed up in another ad, this time for B.J. Lawson, who was running as as the Republican candidate for North Carolina's 4th Congressional District seat. Lawson's campaign actually told Politico's Ben Smith that it was the real Morgan Freeman. But real Morgan Freeman said that he never did any such thing. The controversy ended with Lawson campaign manager Martin Avila telling Politico, "We’re pulling our ads, obviously, if Morgan Freeman says it's not him. ... This is obviously not what we want to talk about” with one day looming until the general election. 

In 2011, Fake Morgan Freeman returned to Wisconsin, this time in support of Republican state Sen. Sheila Hasdorf, who at the time was facing a recall election challenge in public school teacher Shelly Moore. 

So Fake Morgan Freeman has been around the block a few times. (And campaigns that use Fake Morgan Freeman in the state of Wisconsin are undefeated! Fun fact!) Jeff McCormick's campaign, however, marks the first time that Fake Morgan Freeman has been asked to draw an explicit comparison between ending apartheid and starting a duck boat tour business.

Why would McCormick do this? You could argue he'd done it to curry favor with the voters. Or, maybe make a few friends among political elites. Me, I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.

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Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

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