POLITICAL AD REVIEW;PRESIDENT USES KLAAS KILLING TO HONE CRIMEFIGHTING IMAGE

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Advertiser: Clinton/Gore '96

Agency: Squier Knapp Ochs,

Washington

Rating: 1 star

It turns out that Polly Klaas did not die in vain. The 12-year-old girl, murdered in a sensational kidnapping that gripped America, was a martyr for California presidential electors.

A new Clinton/Gore spot uses her death to boost the ticket's image on crime. It begins with a tight close-up on her radiant photograph.

"My daughter Polly was only 12 years old," says the voice of her father, Marc Klaas, as the screen fills with an even more radiant Polly, captured on video, happily going up and down on a backyard swing. "She had her whole life in front of her. But a criminal, who shouldn't have been on parole, kidnapped her and took it all away. President Clinton forced Congress to pass his tough crime bill-life in prison for dangerous repeat offenders, an expanded death penalty."

Here footage of the president signing the bill gives way to a shot of a prison door slamming shut, and then a very presidential Clinton, shoulder to shoulder with uniformed police chiefs.

"I hear people question the president's character and integrity. It's just politics. When it came to protecting children, the president had the courage to make a difference."

Never mind that the repeat offenders law probably wouldn't have kept Polly's convicted killer, Richard Allen Davis, from being on parole. The question is, is it proper to exploit the death of a 12-year-old-and the viewers' emotions-to sell "tough on crime"?

Answer: Of course not. This spot is manipulative, unseemly and reeking of insincerity. But it hardly seems to be a campaign ad anymore if some unfortunate victim of violence isn't put forward as a Unique Selling Proposition by some cynical candidate somewhere.

In one, a Maryland congressional hopeful talks about his murdered uncle, and the incomplete justice that inspired him to run for office. In another Clinton/Gore spot about gun control, former Reagan aide James Brady relives the assassination attempt that has left him disabled-complete with footage of the shooting.

This isn't even the first use of the Klaas case in political advertising this year. Richard Allen Davis is 1996's Willie Horton, used as the living incarnation of all reasons to vote against politicians who are supposedly soft on crime. In one particularly heinous congressional campaign spot, California Republican challenger Tim LeFever morphs the face of Polly's killer into that of incumbent Rep. Vic Fazio.

No doubt the grief-stricken Marc Klaas is grasping for some good that might come out of the tragedy; he let Polly be used as a posthumous poster child throughout the crime-bill debate. So perhaps he is blind to the obscene opportunism of this particular sort of borrowed interest. He says this is all about protecting children, but he's actually far more correct when he says something else.

"It's just politics."

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