Cites GAO Inquiry That Educational Spot Is 'Political'

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WASHINGTON ( -- CBS, which has faced intense scrutiny of late for some of its broadcast decisions -- from the recent Super Bowl halftime show to dumping an anti-Bush ad -- is pulling a White House commercial touting the latest Medicare legislation.

CBS was the only network to pull the ad, despite pleas from Democrats on Capitol Hill to all the major networks to stop running the commercial from the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It is an arbitrary decision that is inconsistent with the decision of other networks. They [CBS] are bowing to political pressure," said Kevin Keane, assistant secretary for public affairs.

$12 million campaign
The ad, slated to run through March as part of a $12 million Medicare educational campaign, is part of an overall effort that includes mailing brochures describing the new benefits to all Medicare recipients. The brochure's contents have also been questioned by Democrats.

A CBS spokesman said the ad was being pulled because the General Accounting Office is probing Democratic complaints that the ad is a political message and not a public service ad.

Democrats have repeatedly argued that the ad, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., is a thinly disguised political ad because it goes beyond offering information on new Medicare benefits, instead touting prescription drug coverage that won't come until 2006.

In a hearing last week, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., called the ad campaign "clearly a political effort to sell the Medicare plan. I think it is totally inappropriate for public money to be spent on a propaganda campaign."

Democrats also complained that media time was bought by the Bush campaign's media buyer, National Media. The ad aired nationally on a Feb. 8 Meet the Press broacast, which featured an interview with President Bush. The ad has since aired elsewhere.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson told senators earlier this week he would pull the ad if it is ruled "political." Mr. Thompson, however, said the ad came out of a contract with Ketchum Communications, which is headed by a backer of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and that National Media was hired to buy advertising several years ago and has been doing so for each year's campaign.

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