November 2nd, 2010
01:10 PM ET
11 years ago

Ad's fake Morgan Freeman voice roils campaign

(CNN) – Angry finger-pointing continued in a North Carolina congressional race Tuesday over a campaign advertisement that purported to feature the voice of the actor Morgan Freeman.

Republican candidate B.J. Lawson's campaign said it was "tricked" by a production company after it was revealed that Freeman was not the narrator in Lawson's latest ad, as the campaign had previously claimed.  Now the campaign has threatened legal action, and both parties have released statements, e-mail exchanges, and signed contracts as evidence as to who knew what when, and what exactly was agreed to.

"We're apologizing to Congressman Price, to the voters, and most of all to Morgan Freeman because this is not the campaign we wanted to run, and not the campaign we have run," Lawson campaign spokesman Martin Avila told CNN on Monday.

The narrator's familiar voice immediately raised eyebrows when the ad launched on Friday. Lawson's campaign initially confirmed that the voice was Freeman's on Facebook and on its website on Monday.

But the Oscar-winning actor issued a statement soon after denying any involvement with the campaign.

"These people are lying.  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," Freeman said statement.

Avila said the California-based group MEI Political approached the campaign and offered to produce an ad with Freeman, and the campaign "innocently walked into it."

"If there was any question it wasn't him, we wouldn't have run the ad," Avila said.  Lawson's campaign lawyers are reviewing the situation and have recommended a criminal inquiry into MEI for misrepresenting its product, Avila said.

But MEI sharply denied misleading the campaign, and now both sides have released statements outlining their version of events, and e-mail exchanges they say support their side of the story.

The Lawson campaign released an e-mail exchange between Lawson and MEI president Benjamin Mathis, from October 27, in which Mathis wrote, "I'd love to record a robocall or ad starring John O'Hurley for you guys…I'll also have Gerald McRaney, Morgan Freeman...later in the week."

The campaign also released a signed contract with MEI that states in part, "M.E.I. shall write and produce one Morgan Freeman radio commercial requested by L.F.C.," which the campaign says proves that they were promised an ad narrated by Freeman.

But MEI sharply denied misleading Lawson, and said that it told the campaign they would be using a voice double for Freeman at the outset of their discussions. MEI produced an e-mail dated October 12 - two weeks prior to the e-mail released by Lawson's campaign – that it says proves it never claimed to have the real Freeman available.

The e-mail, which was distributed by Lawson's opponent in the race for North Carolina's 4th congressional district, Rep. David Price, read in part, "I just wanted to let you know that if you're interested, I am going to have the several celebrities in studio this week to record some campaign ads for radio and TV... I'll also have the personal voice doubles for Morgan Freeman, William Shatner, Donald Sutherland, Sam Elliott, Queen Latifah, John Goodman, and Ray Romano in studio cutting ads for us.

"A voice double is the person hired by a celebrity to do 'voice matching' for the celeb when they are unavailable to re-record audio in post on a project.  The audience never notices the difference.  It's one of those little secrets of Hollywood.  We've used them with great success in political ads.  We of course never say that they are the actual celebrity, but voters recognize their voice and trust it," Mathis' e-mail continued.

Avila contends that the e-mail implies the voice double is authorized by Freeman to represent his likeness, and insisted that is how the campaign interpreted Mathis' words.

But in a statement released late Monday night, Mathis said the e-mail made it "abundantly clear" that it planned to use Freeman's voice double for the ad.

"Both verbally and in writing, we made it clear to the Lawson campaign that this is not Morgan Freeman, but instead it is Mr. Freeman's voice double," Mathis said. "We also informed the campaign that even though the ad was similar to Morgan Freeman in style or tone, the campaign should not represent it as the actor Morgan Freeman or as an endorsement by Mr. Freeman."

Mathis also blasted the campaign, saying, "It is highly inappropriate for them to publicly misrepresent this ad (against our explicit advice), and then try to throw a campaign supporter and a lifelong Republican under the bus by claiming that they were somehow 'duped' into thinking that Morgan Freeman, a man who gets paid $1 million just to record a visa commercial, was seriously going to record a radio spot for their campaign."

On its website, MEI Political describes itself as a "full service political media company." It lists several high profile Republican candidates among its clients, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Lawson's opponent has also questioned the campaign's explanation.

"This is simply not credible.  How can a candidate seriously claim that they had the voice and purported support of a well-known actor like Morgan Freeman without ever having spoken with him?" asked Price campaign spokesman Andrew High.

Price also blasted Lawson for the ad in a statement released shortly after Freeman spoke out.

"This is an unfortunate and desperate attempt to fool voters in the last hours of a campaign.  By using Mr. Freeman's good name, BJ Lawson has ruined his own, and he should be ashamed.  Now the voters will decide whom they trust," Price said in a statement.

Filed under: 2010 • North Carolina
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Marge

    Knocking out phone lines in NH. Trying to intimidate voters in Hennpin County MN and now this about Freeman. AND THE REPUBLICANS WHO DID ALL THIS ARE SAYING THAT """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""THEY"""""""""""""""""""HAVE TO WATCH OUT FOR VOTER FRAUD ON THE PART OF THE DEMOCRATS...


    November 2, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  2. DanteX

    What? The Repub-LIE-can Party using deceptions and distortions and lies and mischaracterizations and tricks in an attempt to gain office? Who would have EVER thought such a thing?

    November 2, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  3. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Slimy REPUKES strike again....

    November 2, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  4. Hypocricy is a Speeding Prius

    'Big-Government-at-any' Price is grasping at straws. GO LAWSON!!!!

    November 2, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  5. T'SAH from Virginia

    "We're apologizing to Congressman Price, to the voters, and most of all to Morgan Freeman because this is not the campaign we wanted to run, and not the campaign we have run," Lawson campaign spokesman Martin Avila told CNN on Monday."

    YOU LIE and you are a CHEATER!!! You cannot SPIN this but so far!!! Besides, I don't think Morgan Freeman would endorse a RepubliCAN'T anyway!!!

    VOTERS in NC – go with the DEMOCRAT because we know how to COMPROMISE!!! If you elect a RepubliCAN'T, there will be NO COMPROMISING in DC!!!

    This is T'sah from VA and I approve this message!!

    November 2, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  6. independent

    No surprises from the Carolinas, though it is usually S. Carolyn that comes up with the wierd stuff.

    November 2, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  7. RichP, easton, pa

    A million dollars for a visa commercial, that is flat out sick.

    November 2, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  8. TSUNAMI ALERT: Expected loss of Socialist DemocRATS HUGE

    What utter NONSENSE. Nobody with half a brain thinks a voice over on a political add implies support from the person whose voice it is. This is so ridiculous it's laughable.

    November 2, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  9. DIANA

    There's an ad for a proposition in California with a voice that sounds a lot like Morgan Freedman's voice too. I wonder if it's the same people. I hope he didn't lend his voice to a slimy ad, I can't remember what it was for but I know it was bad for California.

    November 2, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  10. Richard

    If you would like to continue driving towards the (D)itch, then leave the car in "D". If you would like to move away from the path towards socialism, then put the car in "R".

    November 2, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  11. yerseke

    Andrew High must be an idiot. The Lawson campaign was dealing with an agent who purported that it was Morgan Freeman who was available, among others, to do voiceover work. Read the emails and contract on Mr. Lawson's website. MEI has produced no evidence in dispute of the Lawson campaign's explanation of events. Until they do I'd tend to believe Dr. Lawson's version of the facts. As a neurosurgeon and entrepreneur he has proven intellect yet is not too proud to admit he was "duped". He cannot supervise every facet of his campaign and relies on staff and volunteers to conduct business for the campaign. Again, read the contract and emails on Dr. Lawson's website. The content certainly implies, at the very least, that it is Morgan Freeman doing the voiceover. If anyone should be held suspect it should be MEI unless and until they can prove their version of events.

    November 2, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  12. Get out and vote for freedoms

    Today is the day that some liberal bloggers will put pants on, leave their parents basement and possibly vote - if there isn't a Dairy Queen on the way.

    November 2, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  13. kalyn - Missouri

    This just figures: More LIES from the Replicans..
    What makes people think if Lawson lies about using someone's identity for a campaign ad that he is not going to lie to you about other things?

    Come on People use your God given brain and see through the BS of the Rep / Tea Party, think about some of the comments made by Sarah Palin ( If the Rep's are not with US then they will be left in the dust). Christine O'Donnell : She states she is a authority on the Constitution , ( she stuided it for 1 week in a think tank, she needed to stay there MUCH longer). The Republicans want to get rid of Social Security & Medicare, Why would anyone in their right mind vote for these people??? and what do you think the Rep will do with healthcare? they will repeal Obamacare and then let things stay the way they are and your preim and co-pays will continue to increase and God forbide you loose you job..

    I really thought that the people in this country were smarter!!

    November 2, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  14. Really?

    Who cares? I'm more likely to vote against a celebrity than with them.

    November 2, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  15. j rob

    It's obama's fault

    November 2, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  16. A Patriot

    Morgan Freeman has evolved into a voice people instinctively trust and respect. I bielve he does those VISA commercials and introduces the CBS evening news.

    For this GOP politician to "steal" his auditory likeness in an attempt to impart trust and credibility to his campaign illustrates the lack of respect for the law they have.

    I for one have tired of holier-than-thou Republicans who break rules, vows, law, ethics, or morals but PUBLICALLY rail on as law abiding standard bearers.

    They`ve got character flaws ... Vitter, Ensign, Delay, Stanford, all of them. Demand Better America!

    November 2, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  17. What is the country coming to

    Treak ....right.....they know this is how the REPhead are.........another NIXON

    November 2, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  18. Larry

    The question becomes: Which republican is a bigger liar, the candidate or the adveriser who supports republicans. The fact is a liar is a liar and big or small most republicans are liars.

    November 2, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  19. Angelica

    Oh you brutal bunch of cheap people, is that how you want to win? Lying? Oh, who am I kidding here.

    November 2, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  20. Dirk

    These are Republicans, lying and cheating is in their DNA.

    November 2, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  21. Fixer2010

    Wow – a politician trying to sway the vote through misleading information. Now that's a first! *sigh*

    November 2, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  22. Bob, Virginia

    LOL a teabagger campaign lies. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

    November 2, 2010 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  23. Jaywing

    I got an idea - why don't the good folks in NC just write in Morgan Freeman and forget the 2 fools running for office.

    November 2, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  24. Michael

    OK, here is proof positive of yet another instance of typical GOP strategy: lie to the public and hope they never find out.

    November 2, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  25. HCX

    Lawson....liar liar, pants on fire. tsk tsk

    November 2, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
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