Conspiracy theories

National | AD WATCH: Two new interest-group TV ads deliver shocking images but shaky facts

Issue: "Iraq: Present and past," June 12, 2004

Move On and the Media Fund have bankrolled new ­television commercials that might make waves in the fever swamps of the left but don't stand up to scrutiny. Here's a look at two recent offerings: Move On: "Fire Rumsfeld" the verbiage: "They said we went to Iraq to bring American values. Democracy. Liberty. But something has gone terribly wrong. Now it's been reported that Donald Rumsfeld initiated the plan that encouraged the physical coercion and sexual humiliation of ­prisoners. Rumsfeld has endangered our soldiers, and America. Why hasn't George Bush fired this man?" the visuals: The camera moves slowly up the Statue of Liberty. From the base to the tablet, everything looks normal. Finally, the top of the statue comes into view, and Lady Liberty's head is covered in one of the infamous black hoods from Abu Ghraib prison. The statue is replaced by a photo of Mr. Rumsfeld at a news conference, a blurred President Bush standing behind him to the right. As the ad ends, the camera zooms in until only the president, in sharp focus, fills the frame. the verdict: "It's been reported" that Mr. ­Rumsfeld is behind the Abu Ghraib debacle? Not proven, not verified-just reported. That single report, by journalist Seymour Hersh, appeared in The New Yorker in late May. Pentagon officials immediately branded the story "outlandish" and "conspiratorial," and no other reporters have been able to verify the Hersh theory. Still, it's the shocking visuals, rather than the shaky facts, that will likely stir the most debate. MoveOn.org, the creator of the ad, is spending an estimated $200,000 to air it in 14 major cities. Media Fund: "Corporate HQ" the verbiage: "Instead of protecting pensions, George Bush supported a bill giving Enron huge new tax breaks. Instead of giving seniors real prescription drug benefits, Bush gave drug companies billions in his Medicare bill. Instead of fighting corporate corruption, George Bush gave no-bid contracts to Halliburton, a company caught overcharging for fuel and food for our ­soldiers in Iraq. George Bush: He's turned the White House into corporate headquarters." the visuals: A crane lowers an "Enron" sign onto its base on a manicured lawn. Workers in hard hats and goggles mount a "Pfizer" sign on an unseen surface. A man buffs a brown ­"Halliburton" sign as the camera slowly pulls out, revealing a bit of the White House in the background. Finally, a hand reaches out to flip a switch marked "Danger! High Voltage," and a red neon "Corporate Headquarters" sign buzzes to life above a White House littered with corporate logos. the verdict: It's as if the Media Fund, headed by former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, were trying to see how many distortions it could cram into a single, 30-second spot. First the "instead-of" clauses: President Bush signed a bill in 2002 designed to correct the flaw that wiped out Enron employees' pensions; he successfully pushed for a Medicare prescription drug plan that will aid low-income seniors at a cost of $50 billion a year; and his Justice Department has won convictions against more than 250 crooked corporate executives, including high-profile cases against Enron, Arthur Andersen, and WorldCom. As for the charges of big-business cronyism, the "huge new tax break" wasn't specific to Enron, but rather part of an overall economic stimulus package the president proposed in 2002. Likewise, the Medicare bill doesn't give ­billions to drug companies; it reimburses HMOs and insurers for medications dispensed to elderly patients with low incomes. And Mr. Bush himself never personally awarded a contract to Halliburton, as the ad implies. The "no-bid contract" in question was actually a routine extension of an earlier contract won by Halliburton through a competitive bidding process.

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