“Books with sexual acts and foul language have become available at our children’s fingertips,” says the Whitman Republican at the scene. “Vote on November 8 and let’s fight this battle together to save our children.”
Campbell’s ad builds on a push, including from other Republican candidates, to “play on the anxieties around gender and sexual identity in a changing American culture,” said Michael Serazio, associate professor of communications at Boston College.
“It’s a very provocative ad,” Serazio said.
Also notable, he said, is the disclaimer that precedes it. WCVB warns viewers that the ad is “not approved” by the station and that “under federal law, WCVB is required to air the following ad without censorship.”
“Be aware that the ad contains language and/or images that viewers may find offensive,” it reads.
A WCVB spokeswoman did not respond to questions about why it chose to include the disclaimer or whether the station had ever done so before for a political ad.
“I don’t recall an instance of the host network issuing a trigger warning prior to a political ad being run,” said Serazio, who has written extensively on media and advertising.
With $14,000 behind it, the ad has a relatively limited reach. It first aired Tuesday, and is scheduled to air every weekday morning at 6 a.m. until Halloween. Campbell said Wednesday that the spot, her first on television, was not intended to run on other television stations. She said officials from other stations either didn’t respond to her or told her they planned to run only ads from federal or gubernatorial candidates.
John Carroll, a veteran media analyst, said he’s never seen such a disclaimer in a political ad either. Carroll, a former mass communications professor at Boston University, also questioned whether WCVB was obligated to run the ad, though he acknowledged Federal Communications Commission regulations — including those requiring equal airtime for competing political candidates — present a “complicated issue.” for broadcast stations.
“You can see why WCVB is concerned about getting in the middle of this from a PR standpoint,” Carroll said. “If they refuse to run an ad, suddenly they’re in the middle of a cultural and political problem. That’s a really high stakes for WCVB or any broadcaster.”
Campbell last week posted a longer, 48-second version of the ad on Facebook that includes its own warning about “Graphic Depictions & Language.” Her move to television came shortly after she received a boost in fundraising, mostly from out-of-state donors, following an Oct. 15 appearance on the podcast of Steve Bannon, the longtime adviser to former President Donald Trump.
She said she disagrees with WCVB’s decision to include its disclaimer. “Why would you put a disclaimer out there for adults to see but not kids?” she said.
In terms of content, it is not clear how the book’s place in local libraries directly relates to tasks as foreign minister. The office has a broad portfolio that includes monitoring elections, policing the financial industry and enforcing the state’s public records law, but it has no authority over school or community libraries.
In an interview, Campbell argued that if a person is denied documents under a public record, request to a library or a school seeking to learn, “who approved [certain books] and who allowed them to be placed in our libraries,” they could ultimately appeal to the Secretary of State’s office. She also said the secretary of state sits on the board of state library representatives, which gives the secretary “influence.”
But that board only concerns the State Library, which is located on the third floor of the State House and is largely a repository for legislative and historical documents. It also has no direct oversight of local libraries or what books they include.
“She has every right to spend her campaign money on this issue. But it has nothing to do with this office,” Galvin said.
“Gender Queer,” a 2019 memoir by Maia Kobabe about identifying as non-binary, was the country’s most challenged book – or subject to most attempts to remove or limit it — in 2021, according to the American Library Association, which said it was “restricted for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images.”
The novel contains illustrations depicting sex and masturbation, and has been a frequent target of Campbell, who at the state GOP’s spring convention baselessly claimed that public schools instruct 5-year-olds to perform sexual acts.
Matt Stout can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.