THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING; Celebrities line up to criticize Bush in ACLU campaign

As the second anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks passed yesterday and President Bush called for a greater extension of law enforcement powers, a new advertising campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union has been launched to s ‘oppose White House tactics and proposals.

The ads, which indirectly accuse the administration of trampling on the Bill of Rights without actually mentioning the president, have already struck a chord.

“It is absolutely scandalous,” said Mark Corallo, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice. “You have men and women who have sworn to uphold the Constitution who literally put their lives in danger to keep us safe and our lives intact, and the ACLU makes them a kind of Gestapo-type organization.” ‘

Feelings are bitter on both sides of the debate. Mr Corallo accused the civil liberties union of trying to create an atmosphere of fear. The ACLU and its allies have said the same about the Department of Justice.

“The definition of ‘crisis’ has been changed and has become much more elastic,” said Richard Dreyfuss, the actor, who appears in an advertisement. “Criticism of the administration is not considered admissible or appropriate because we are in ‘crisis’. ”

With a budget of $ 3 million, the campaign consumes a large chunk of the $ 4.5 million that the Civil Liberties Union typically spends on advertising in a year.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the group, said the decision to spend that much on a single effort reflected the belief that disaffection with the Bush administration and its policies was growing, and that the opportunities to obtain new support and new members grew with it. .

“It is essential to speak to the American people now,” said Mr. Romero, “because there is a beginning of debate and dialogue at the grassroots. “

As an example, Romero said communities across the country have passed resolutions opposing anti-terrorism legislation passed in the fall of 2001, known as the Patriot Act. The new proposals would expand these measures and include provisions that were first rejected, such as broader powers to issue subpoenas without judicial review.

The black-and-white print ads are scheduled to run September through December in magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. They were created by Benenson Janson in Studio City, Calif., The agency of the Civil Liberties Union since July 2002.

In the commercial featuring Mr. Dreyfuss, the actor looks at the camera alongside a text that reads: “I am not an American who believes in selective due process,” a reference to the government’s detention of ‘a number of people since September. November 11, 2001, without giving them access to a lawyer and, in some cases, without revealing their name or filing a complaint.

In another commercial, Michael Stipe, the singer of the group REM, appears under a text which reads in part: “I am not an American who wants to be silenced or my neighbors to be silenced.

The large-print caption that begins each ad, “I’m not an American,” is meant to be provocative. But Howard Benenson, chairman of Benenson Janson, said the following post was meant to have wide appeal.

“We felt that ‘I am not an American’ corresponds to everyone’s desire to stand up for their beliefs,” said Mr. Benenson.

Other celebrities appearing in the campaign include author Kurt Vonnegut and actors Samuel L. Jackson, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen and Kristin Davis, who plays Charlotte on HBO’s “Sex and the City”.

Mr Vonnegut said he was a longtime member of the Civil Liberties Union, which decades ago championed a teacher’s use of his novel “Slaughterhouse Five” in the classroom.

“What I’ve said over and over is that if a dog catcher official treats you in a clearly unconstitutional manner, don’t call the FBI, call the ACLU,” Mr. Vonnegut.

The use of well-known personalities in advertisements is a departure for the Civil Liberties Union. Its campaigns most often urge the public to call members of Congress about a specific bill or issue; less often, the union will buy ad space to try to get a particular issue on the news media’s agenda.

Mr Benenson said that so many and such a variety of celebrities donated their time and images to the campaign that the civil liberties union was able to tailor its media plan to maximum effect.

“The celebrities are going to match the posts,” Mr. Benenson said.

For example, the ad with Ms. Davis will run on Vanity Fair, which her fans might be more likely to read than Atlantic Monthly, where Mr. Vonnegut will appear. In Rolling Stone, singer Sheryl Crow will be in the spotlight.

But the strategy comes at a cost. The campaign’s reliance on celebrities has been grasped by critics, who have said that while famous faces can grab attention, they don’t inform the debate.

“When it comes to celebrities, obviously they have the right to say what they think and the right to be asshole, and they usually exercise both,” said Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, a newspaper conservative. “It’s uninformed hysteria typical of the two places you most expect to get it: the ACLU and celebrities. “


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