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'Rats' redux? Santorum campaign ad appears to link Obama with Ahmadinejad

Rick Santorum's presidential campaign appears to have released a new video that subliminally links President Barack Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


M. Alex Johnson

M. Alex Johnson is a reporter for msnbc.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


The video, titled "Obamaville," is a 65-second-long production that presents bleak images of an America in dire economic and social straits, interspersed with scenes of international unrest. Prominent among those is a segment showing images of protests and violence in Iran, featuring pictures of Ahmadinejad. It doesn't include the mandatory "I'm Rick Santorum and I approved this message" tagline that would be necessary if it were intended to air on television.

The video was posted Friday on the Santorum campaign's YouTube page, where it was marked as "unlisted," meaning you can't access it without a special link. But you should still be able to see it on a Twitter account identified as belonging to Michael Biundo, Santorum's campaign manager.

Biundo didn't respond to a request for comment Friday night.


The ad also was published by National Review Online, which touted it as an exclusive "first look at Rick Santorum's latest ad."

At the 40-second mark, an image of Ahmadinejad is shown on a small TV screen. For less than a half-second, the picture flashes to a similarly framed picture of Obama before returning to the Iranian dictator.

At full speed, it looks like a tiny video glitch or small lightning strike, but if you slow down the video, the image of Obama is clear in individual frames:

Reached by NBC News on Friday night, Hogan Gidley, a Santorum spokesman, said it is "absurd" to think the ad is likening Obama to Ahmadinejad.

"If Ahmadinejad gets a nuclear weapon, then we're obviously going to deal with the fallout and coverage of that," Gidley said. "All we're going to be seeing is images of him and the president. We were trying to illustrate that."

And Politico reported that John Brabender, the media consultant who made the video, also denied there was an attempt to conflate Obama and Ahmadinejad. Brabender told Politico that the video is part of an eight-part web series that will run on the Santorum website in two weeks focusing on specific Obama policies.

The ad in some ways is reminiscent of one produced by the Republican National Committee for George W. Bush in 2000, in which the word "RATS" briefly appeared on the screen in a reference to Al Gore's health care proposals before resolving into the word "BUREAUCRATS" at the 25-second mark.

Here are the frames in question:

YouTube.com

That ad was pulled after Democrats complained that it was a subliminal insult about Gore, a charge that the RNC and the Bush campaign denied.

NBC News' Andrew Rafferty contributed to this report.

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