Other Sept. 11 families supported the ads, saying they accurately portrayed President Bush leading the country through one of its darkest moments.
The Bush campaign said harkening to Sept. 11 is important because much of domestic and foreign policy is now related to the attacks and the issue is one that should be recognized by the next president.
The ads — which began airing Thursday — will run on broadcast channels in at least 16 states, most of which are considered critical to the Nov. 2 presidential election, and nationwide on select cable networks.
All three ads are designed to highlight President Bush’s leadership amid economic uncertainty and national security challenges.
Two of the new spots show fleeting images of the World Trade twin towers’ collapse, with an American flag flying over the debris and firemen working in the smoldering wreckage. Closing the images is the tagline: “President Bush: Steady Leadership in Times of Change.”
A group representing 120 families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks gathered in New York City Friday afternoon to demand that the Bush campaign immediately withdraw the ads with 9/11 imagery from the airwaves. The organization, called Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, also asked all political candidates and parties to pledge not to use the images.
“I would be less offended if he showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty,” said Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on doomed American Airlines Flight 11. “But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that’s just some advertising agency’s attempt to grab people by the throat.”
One of the ads, titled “Safer, Stronger,” which also includes a Spanish version, features a one-second shot of firefighters removing the flag-draped remains of a victim from the twisted debris. Both ads showcase Ground Zero imagery with shots of two firefighters.
“It’s as sick as people who stole things out of the place,” said firefighter Tommy Fee of Queens Rescue Squad 270. “The image of firefighters at Ground Zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics.”
“It’s a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people,” Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin tower attacks, told the New York Daily News. “This is a president who has resisted the creation of the 9/11 Commission. … For anyone to use 9/11 for political gain is despicable.”
The International Association of Fire Fighters Union, which has endorsed Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to be the Democratic presidential nominee, approved a resolution Thursday calling on the Bush campaign to take the ads off the air and apologize to victims’ families.
“The use of 9/11 images are hypocrisy at its worst,” Harold Schaitberger, head of the 265,000-member IAFF, said in a statement posted on the union’s Web site.
He said the group’s reaction would have been the same had the Kerry campaign done something similar.
Officials in both the Bush administration and the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign defended the commercials as appropriate for an election about public policy and the war on terror.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday: “Sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy. The president’s steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism.”
Bush campaign adviser Karen Hughes said the ads were a “very tasteful” portrayal of the nation’s shared trauma.
“September 11th was not just a distant tragedy. It’s a defining event for the future of our country. Obviously, all of us mourn and grieve for the victims of that terrible day, but Sept. 11 fundamentally changed our public policy in many important ways, and I think it’s vital that the next president recognize that,” Hughes said on ABC’s Good Morning America on Thursday.
Hughes also sought to preempt Democrats from taking advantage of the controversy for their political gain. “I can understand why some Democrats might not want the American people to remember the great leadership and strength the president and first lady Laura Bush brought to our country in the aftermath of that,” she said.
The Bush campaign issued a statement from Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor of New York during the Sept. 11 attacks, saying: “President Bush has provided the steady, consistent and principled leadership to bring our country through the worst attack in our history.
“His leadership on that day is central to his record, and his continued leadership is critical to our ultimate success against world terrorism,” Giuliani said.
Not all relatives of 9/11 victims expressed outrage over the ads. Jennie Farrell, who lost her brother, electrician James Cartier, called the ad “tastefully done,” adding: “It speaks to the truth of the times. Sept. 11 … was something beyond the realm of imagination, and George Bush … led us through one of the darkest moments in history.”
Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the captain on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, said she supported the ads given the current foreign policy climate.
“The ads are very positive,” Burlingame, a registered Democrat, told Reuters, adding, “It’s a huge issue and to say that President Bush can’t talk about it is preposterous. It’s not like these images are being used to tear down his opponents, but to point out that this is his top priority.”