Oops: Campaign ads keep using foreign footage

Last updated on May 22, 2023

Slick campaign videos often boast a candidate’s overtly American values as they depict troops, weaponry and scenes from the heartland.

Never mind that some of it was shot in foreign countries.

The error, typically committed when an organization pulls imagery from stock footage websites, most recently hit a group supporting Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. In a video released by Spirit of Virginia PAC last week, touting “American values” ahead of the Republican incumbent’s reelection, a scene that was supposed to show an American jet actually featured a Eurofighter Typhoon from the Italian Air Force.

“President Ronald Reagan changed lives. And now it’s our turn. A time to choose life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness over oppression and dictatorial rule,” Youngkin says over footage of the former president, the Marine Corps War Memorial showing the flag-raising on Iwo Jima — and the Italian fighter jet.

The video clearly shows the red, white and green symbol of the Italian Air Force, and the word “Typhoon” appears on the jet’s tail.

Youngkin’s office referred the comment to a Spirit of Virginia spokesperson, who did not immediately respond. They have since rereleased the ad that uses American F-16s instead.

Former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign made a similar mistake earlier this month, as Ukrainian photographers claimed the organization had used footage from after Russia’s invasion to depict Americans suffering under President Joe Biden.

“Under Biden’s unprecedented inflation, the hope of home-ownership — gone. And young adults, forced to abandon seeking the American dream to live in their parents’ basement longer,” a voice says in the video.

A man is seen sitting on a beanbag chair in a dark room. But that wasn’t a struggling young adult living in his parent’s basement — it featured an actor in an actual sheltered basement in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, meant to show the struggles of living under air raid sirens, the owner of the company that produced the footage told the New York Post.

Another portion of the video shows a couple walking away from a realtor as the words “unprecedented inflation” appear on screen. That, too, was shot in Ukraine, the videographer told the Post.

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

When Indiana Rep. Jim Banks announced his Senate run in January, a campaign video showed a trio of troops standing in a desert at dusk.

Touting his congressional record, Banks says that he’s worked to “stop critical race theory and anti-americanism from being taught in our schools and pushed on our troops.”

Yet that scene was filmed in Estonia, Getty Images spokesperson Jenna Attardi said.

A spokesperson for Banks didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Footage from Ukraine and Russia also made it into ads last year. In September, House Republicans aimed to depict a thriving United States in a video titled “The Preamble to the Commitment to America.”

“We celebrate the rich heritage of the American story and the vibrancy of the American Dream,” a voice says as a drilling rig at sunrise appears on screen — taken by a filmmaker based in Russia.

While the video boasted the United State’s natural resources, the rig shown is actually in Russia’s Volgograd region, the filmmaker told HuffPost. Another scene of a boy running in a field with a toy airplane — the words “liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” overlaid — was also shot in that region, he also said.

Later in the video, a person carrying a sack over their shoulder while walking through a cornfield might appear at first glance to be a farmhand in the midwest, symbolizing work ethic and “the vibrancy of the American Dream,” as the overlaid text says. But the person shown is, once again, stock footage taken in Russia.

In 2020, a pro-Trump super PAC was a repeat offender, using stock footage from Russia and Belarus four times in three months to promote his campaign.

Additional reporting by Renee Klahr.