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January 8, 2003

TV Ads Say S.U.V. Owners Support Terrorists


WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 Ratcheting up the debate over sport utility vehicles, new television commercials suggest that people who buy the vehicles are supporting terrorists. The commercials are so provocative that some television stations are refusing to run them.

Patterned after the commercials that try to discourage drug use by suggesting that profits from illegal drugs go to terrorists, the new commercials say that money for gas needed for S.U.V.'s goes to terrorists.

"This is George," a girl's voice says of an oblivious man at a gas station. "This is the gas that George bought for his S.U.V." The screen then shows a map of the Middle East. "These are the countries where the executives bought the oil that made the gas that George bought for his S.U.V." The picture switches to a scene of armed terrorists in a desert. "And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his S.U.V."

A second commercial depicts a series of ordinary Americans saying things like: "I helped hijack an airplane"; "I gave money to a terrorist training camp in a foreign country"; "What if I need to go off-road?"

At the close, the screen is filled with the words: "What is your S.U.V. doing to our national security?"

The two 30-second commercials are the brainchild of the author and columnist Arianna Huffington. Her target audience, she said, is Detroit and Congress, especially the Republicans and Democrats who last year voted against a bill, sponsored by Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would have raised fuel-efficiency standards.

Spokesmen for the automakers dismissed the commercials.

Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said of Ms. Huffington, "Her opinion is out-voted every year by Americans who buy S.U.V.'s for their safety, comfort and versatility." He said that S.U.V.'s now account for 21 percent of the market.

In an interview, Senator Kerry distanced himself from the commercials. He said that rather than oppose S.U.V.'s outright, he believed they should be more efficient.

"I haven't seen these commercials," he said, "but anybody can drive as large an S.U.V. as they want, though it can be more efficient than it is today."

Ms. Huffington's group, which calls itself the Detroit Project, has bought almost $200,000 of air time for the commercials, to run from Sunday to Thursday. While the group may lose some viewers if stations refuse to run the advertisements, the message is attracting attention through news coverage.

The advertisements are to be broadcast on "Meet The Press," "Face the Nation" and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

But some local affiliates say they will not run them. At the ABC affiliate in New York, Art Moore, director of programming, said, "There were a lot of statements being made that were not backed up, and they're talking about hot-button issues."

Ms. Huffington said she got the idea for the commercials while watching the antidrug commercials, sponsored by the Bush administration. In her syndicated column, she asked readers if they would be willing to pay for "a people's ad campaign to jolt our leaders into reality."

She said she received 5,000 e-mail messages and eventually raised $50,000 from the public. Bigger contributors included Steve Bing, the film producer; Larry David, the comedian and "Seinfeld" co-creator; and Norman Lear, the television producer.

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