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Democrats Complain About ‘Rats’ Ad

September 13, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A pair of Democratic senators is complaining to the Federal Communications Commission about a Republican ad that subtly flashes the word ``RATS″ across the screen.

The ad is already coming off the air, but Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and John Breaux of Louisiana are asking for an investigation.

``We have reason to believe that broadcasters are airing television advertisements that contain subliminal messages in violation of the public interest,″ the two wrote in a letter being sent Wednesday.

In 1974, the FCC adopted a policy saying that subliminal advertising was contrary to the public interest. Officials at the FCC said Tuesday that they had not received a complaint about the GOP ad but would investigate if one were filed.

The FCC has no power over the Republican National Committee, which aired the ad for more than two weeks, or any other political campaign. But it does control the licenses of television stations that air the ad. TV stations are not supposed to air material that is not in the public interest.

The ad, which has been running in several states for more than two weeks, touts Bush’s plan for adding prescription drugs to Medicare, arguing that senior citizens will have more control over their health care under Bush’s proposal. Gore’s plan, the ad says, will be run by bureaucrats.

Words flash on the screen to echo the announcer’s message: ``The Gore prescription plan: Bureaucrats decide.″

But just as the announcer says ``bureaucrats decide,″ the word ``RATS,″ in large, white capital letters, fills the black screen.

``We are deeply troubled by these allegations and believe that it is in the best interests of both political parties, and all Americans, that the Federal Communications Commission conduct an immediate and impartial review of this matter,″ the senators wrote.

To sustain any sort of violation against a station, the FCC would have to show that the station knew that subliminal material was contained in the ad.

Republicans maintain that there is nothing subliminal about the ad _ the flashing words are just fleeting fragments meant to keep the ad visually interesting. And even if there is subliminal material contained, it’s likely that a station would have never noticed it.

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