WASHINGTON – A political group supporting President Bush's Iraq war strategy with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign is airing a new TV ad denouncing a liberal group's sharp criticism of Gen. David Petraeus.
The campaign is the second rollout of ads by the group, Freedom's Watch, and capitalizes on Democratic Party unease over a newspaper ad run this week by MoveOn.org, one of the leading anti-war voices among liberal activists.
The MoveOn ad appeared Monday in The New York Times on the morning of Petraeus' first appearance before Congress to testify about conditions in Iraq. The ad accused Petraeus of "cooking the books" for the White House. "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" it asked, playing off his name.
The ad has become a rallying point for Republicans, who have demanded that Democrats disavow it.
Some Democrats have voiced concern. On Monday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called the ad "over the top."
The Freedom's Watch ad states: "Name calling, charges of betrayal it's despicable. It's what MoveOn shamefully does — and it's wrong. America and the forces of freedom are winning. MoveOn is losing. Call your Congressman and Senator. Tell them to condemn MoveOn."
"It's not surprising that a White House front group like Freedom's Watch would come after us," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action. Pariser defended the MoveOn ad, saying, "when you have the Bush administration spinning the facts about what is happening in Iraq, that's a betrayal of trust."
Bradley A. Blakeman, president of Freedom's Watch, said MoveOn was employing "outrageous tactics."
"To question the character and patriotism of brave men and women who combat terrorism everyday is too much, it's in poor taste and it will not go unchallenged," he said.
Freedom's Watch also plans to respond to MoveOn with a print ad in The New York Times, and has demanded the same $65,000 rate that the liberal group paid for its full-page ad. Freedom's Watch spokesman Matt David said his organization paid "significantly more" for another full-page ad Tuesday on the 9/11 anniversary.
That ad, however, was a more expensive full-page color ad, compared to MoveOn's, which was black and white. The rate also would have been higher if Freedom's Watch asked for a specific date and placement of the ad. David said The New York Times did not offer Freedom's Watch the $65,000 rate.
Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communication at the Times, said she could not discuss specific advertisers, but said the rate for a special advocacy, full-page, black and white, standby ad is $64,575. At that rate, an advertiser can request that an ad run on a specific date, but cannot be guaranteed such placement.
"The rates are certainly things that have many different variables in them," she said.
Freedom's Watch launched a $15 million advertising blitz last month to pressure lawmakers, including Republicans, whose backing of the war was seen as wavering.
The group is financed by former White House aides and Republican fundraisers and was organized as a nonprofit organization under IRS rules. It is not required to identify its donors or the amounts they give.
Among those who have been publicly identified with the effort are billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a fundraiser for Bush and chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and conservative philanthropist John M. Templeton Jr. of Bryn Mawr, Pa. Both men have been major contributors to conservative causes.
Also backing Freedom's Watch are top Republican donors Anthony Gioia, Mel Sembler and Howard Leach, all former ambassadors in the Bush administration. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is a founding member.