NAREIT'S HAPPY TALK MERELY SELECTIVE TRUTH

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Companies, by and large, do a pretty good job of promoting their products and services. When the same companies try to boost themselves in corporate-image campaigns, the results tend to be less straightforward, more nakedly propagandistic and, often enough, absurdly Pollyanna.

Ah, but when companies band together as an industry to enlighten us about their value, integrity and selfless good works, things really get hilarious.

It's as if these campaigns appear in some bizarre parallel universe, where the Big Lie told with a straight face is expected to persuade the hapless bumpkins in Anytown USA.

For instance, only last week a newspaper ad trumpeted "good news about CO2" from the Greening Earth Society. Sure. The group is funded entirely by fossil fuel-burning -- read, "greenhouse gas-producing" -- electric utilities. We'd be less inclined to assume they're lying scumbags if they didn't hide behind some phony tree-hugging pseudonym.

Or maybe not. Earlier this month, the National Association of Manufacturers proudly sponsored an Earth Day celebration in communities across America. Talk about chutzpah.

We've said it before, we'll say it again: The NAM celebrating Earth Day is like John Wayne Gacy celebrating the International Year of the Child.

And now, less insulting but just as suspect, big news from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts: You, too, can own commercial real estate and provide a better world for your children.

The spot, from Goddard/Claussen, Malibu, Calif., features a grinning dad and his grinning son walking around a big city, grinning, as they survey their holdings.

"The way Josh Connor acts, you'd think he owns the place," the voice-over says. "And, in a way, he does.

"Josh's dad has begun securing their future by investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts.

"REITS make it possible for anyone to own income-producing real estate almost anywhere. So they have a stake in the properties here, shopping centers in Texas, apartments in Florida and offices in New York."

And so on to the tagline: "Changing the face of real estate investment."

No doubt. In the past five years, REIT mutual funds are up 47% -- very nice, until you compare them with the Standard & Poor's index, up 222% over the same period. In the past year, the S&P has risen 21%. REIT funds are down -- that's down -- 16.5%.

If the market continues to shun portfolios of strip shopping centers and shabby high-rises, don't let smiling ol' dad ride up to the 30th floor of one of his properties. He's apt to jump.

Should NAREIT change its tagline to "A risky investment any way you stack it"? No, of course not. They're entitled to tell the selective truth. And they've got the right agency for that purpose. Goddard, the fine folks who brought you "Harry & Louise" to scare you witless about healthcare reform, are specialists in lying by oversimplification. But beware.

One can't help recalling the slick, emotional campaign from Chiat/Day a decade ago, employing selective truth-telling to advertise junk bonds from Drexel Burnham Lambert. Worked liked a charm. Ask Mike Milken.

This REIT campaign is no swindle -- just happy talk. But we are speaking of people's savings here. It's one thing to advertise diversifying into a stable investment sector built on solid values. Spinning a declining marketplace into a

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