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CBS Pulls Advertisement on Medicare Prepared by Administration
Published on Saturday, February 14, 2004 by the New York Times
CBS Pulls Advertisement on Medicare Prepared by Administration
by Robert Pear
 

WASHINGTON CBS said on Friday that it had stopped running a television advertisement for the new Medicare prescription drug law while Congress investigates its accuracy.

The 30-second advertisement, prepared by the Bush administration, assures Medicare beneficiaries that the program is not changing in any way except to provide "more benefits." Democratic members of Congress and some liberal advocacy groups say the advertisement amounts to a taxpayer-subsidized political commercial for the administration.

Dana McClintock, a spokesman for CBS in New York, said: "The ad has been pulled. It violated our longstanding policy on advocacy advertising. We pulled it as soon as we became aware of the investigation."

The government is spending $9.5 million to run the advertisement on national network and cable programs in the next six weeks.

The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, is examining the advertisements at the request of several Democrats. The lawmakers say the commercials are inaccurate and constitute an illegal use of federal money to promote the re-election of President Bush.

The CBS policy says the network "does not sell time for the advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance." A commercial is considered unacceptable if it explicitly takes a position on such an issue, or if it presents arguments parallel to those made by one side, "so as to constitute implicit advocacy."

CBS's decision angered Republicans in Washington.

"This is a political decision," said John P. Feehery, a spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

Mr. McClintock said the decision had been made by Martin D. Franks, an executive vice president of CBS.

Mr. Feehery asserted that Mr. Franks was "a partisan Democrat" who had contributed money to Democratic candidates. CBS executives rejected the criticism as a smear tactic, and they insisted that their policy had been applied in an evenhanded way.

"People on both sides express displeasure when you have a clear and consistent policy down the middle," Mr. McClintock said.

Last month CBS rejected a request from a liberal group, MoveOn.org, that wanted to run a Super Bowl advertisement criticizing President Bush's fiscal policies.

Kevin W. Keane, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, denounced the decision on the Medicare advertisement.

"It's unfortunate that CBS has chosen to undermine our efforts to educate seniors about the law," Mr. Keane said.

But Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, said: "The Medicare ad is a propaganda effort with taxpayer dollars. CBS has done the responsible thing. Other networks must now follow suit."

President Bush and Republicans in Congress have taken credit for delivering drug benefits to the elderly. But since the legislation was signed on Dec. 8, Democrats have kept up their criticism, describing the law as a giveaway to pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the majority leader, called on CBS to reconsider its decision. Dr. Frist said the advertisement was "clearly nonpartisan," and he noted that under the law, federal officials must "broadly disseminate information" about the new drug benefit.

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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