Bush Defends "Rats" Ad

The ad, which has been airing on television stations across the country for two weeks, is critical of Vice President Al Gore’s Medicare plan. But most troubling to the Gore campaign is a frame of the ad where the word “RATS” — a fragment of the word “bureaucrats” — appears in white capital letters larger than any other word in the commercial. Some Democrats called the image — which appears for one 30th of a second — a subliminal attempt to influence voters.

The word appears on-screen while the commercial tells viewers that, under Gore’s plan, “bureaucrats decide” how their health care plans will operate.

The ad, sponsored by the Republican National Committee, is being pulled, although the campaign said it was scheduled to end its run tomorrow anyway. It has run 4,400 times in 33 cities, at a cost of $2.5 million.

The ad’s creator calls the word’s appearance a “visual drumbeat” meant to grab viewers’ attention and not an intentional message. Bush’s chief media consultant, Mark McKinnon, told The New York Times today he was not aware that the image appeared in the ad until asked about it by a reporter.

Gore’s supporters said they found it hard to believe that the image was unintentional.

“I think it’s a disappointing development,” Gore told reporters. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Gore’s running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, called the ad “very disappointing and strange.”

But Bush says cries of conspiracy over the incident are unfounded.

“One frame out of 900 hardly, in my judgment, makes a conspiracy,” Bush said today, on a campaign stop in Florida. “Conspiracy theories abound in American politics. I don’t think we need to be subliminal about prescription drugs.”

Bush said the use of subliminal messages in advertising is “not acceptable.”

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