- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

A group of North Dakota television stations has yanked a paid ad from a Virginia-based conservative group after being convinced by a Democratic U.S. senator that the copy was tantamount to a "false advertising campaign."
The ad from the American Conservative Union states that a prescription drug plan co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is compulsory and describes the plan as a "raid on your Social Security check."
"We pulled these ads because we determined they were factually incorrect," said Tim Reiten, president of Reiten Television in Bismark. He owns four CBS stations at which the ads were to run from Aug. 22 through Sept. 5. Mr. Reiten said that the 30-second spots ran for two days before he was talked to by Mr. Conrad.
Representatives from AARP (formerly the American Association for Retired People), Families USA and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare also called Mr. Reiten, protesting the veracity of the ad. All three organizations favor federal subsidies for prescription drug purchases.
"When the AARP says it is untruthful, that raises a red flag for me," Mr. Reiten said. He yanked the ad on Aug. 24.
Mr. Conrad has now countered with an ad of his own, which first ran over Labor Day weekend, repudiating the charge and asserting that the proposed plan is voluntary.
The AARP is also running counter ads in North Dakota newspapers under a headline that says "It's time for a dose of reality."
"The American Conservative Union's misleading ads are distorting the truth about prescription drug coverage for seniors," the ad says.
And North Dakota newspapers have also disparaged the ACU.
"Conservative group's TV ad is a lie," reads the headline over one commentary in the Forum, the Fargo newspaper.
"Liars take after prescription drug bill," blares the headline of a likewise-themed editorial piece in the Bismark Tribune.
All of this is over a $30,000, two-week ad campaign. The state was selected because of its conservative tendencies, an ACU spokesman said. Mr. Conrad is a moderate Democrat who gets generally good ratings from both political sides.
"We have no idea where the [ACU] ad came from," said Laurie Boeder, a spokeswoman for the senator. "The ad is simply false, and we called the broadcasting stations to tell them that these were inaccurate. I think they deserve to know this information."
The ACU contends the ad is true and began running another similar spot last weekend.
"Nowhere in the ad is there a lie," said Kerri Houston, national field director for the ACU. "The senator seems to think that the First Amendment only applies to him. Obviously, the television station and the senator feel that this ad is dangerous. Otherwise, why wouldn't they let it run to show that we are wrong? And why is it only their point of view can be represented?"
The bill in question, authored by Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, would allow seniors who are eligible for Medicare to enlist in a prescription drug program, at a cost of $53 a month.
That money would be deducted from the participant's monthly Social Security payment.
The ACU says that a congressionally approved plan would quash any alternatives or private insurance plans that are held by many seniors. Their conclusion is that it would mean the bill's plan would be, de facto, the only way to go.
"It is not compulsory," Miss Boeder said.
She noted that eight other stations have continued to run the ads. She saw it on Sunday when she was home.
"Anyone is free to run an ad," she said. "But we can answer to those as well.


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