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CAUSE CELEBRE

MoveOn ad shakes some up

September 21, 2007|TINA DAUNT

IT looked for a while as if MoveOn.org had become one of Hollywood's favorite liberal advocacy groups, especially for those looking for a place to express their antiwar sentiments without incurring a lot of unfavorable publicity.

Directors and celebrities lined up to help the Internet-based organization formed in 1998 in the wake of President Clinton's impeachment. Oliver Stone directed an antiwar ad for the group, as did Rob Reiner. Moby offered his musical talent, rallying other artists like Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder to get involved. Director Richard Linklater and writer Aaron Sorkin produced a series of anti-Bush ads in the run-up to the 2004 election. Producer Robert Greenwald and actor Mike Farrell organized celebrities on behalf of the group before the war even started.

But last week when MoveOn ignited controversy by issuing an ad attacking Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the American troops in Iraq, entertainment industry politicos began to wonder if the group had gone too far and in fact become a liability for the largely Democratic Hollywood crowd.

"Most people saw it as a mistake that really hurt progressive candidates," said one Hollywood insider, who asked not to be named because he continues to be involved in fundraising efforts. "We just handed the Republicans a gift. It's like MoveOn has become tone-deaf. I think people will be more cautious and careful about what they do with MoveOn in the future."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 26, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Petraeus ad: The Cause Celebre column in Friday's Calendar section about controversy following an ad by MoveOn.org attacking Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said the group also generated controversy in 2004 when it released an ad comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. The 2004 incident involved a submission by an individual after MoveOn invited parties to post short videos on the website. Amid intense criticism, the group removed the submission and apologized.

Survival instinct is hard-wired in this town. You can push the message, but not at the expense of losing the audience. Plus, few want to be seen as wild-eyed moonbats. It's not a good career move. (Who can forget the footage of Jane Fonda cavorting with the enemy in Vietnam?)

The MoveOn ad made a play on Petraeus' name -- "Betray Us" -- as he prepared to testify before Congress. Conservative bloggers, U.S. senators and Vice President Dick Cheney denounced the ad as an insult to a leading American patriot, a man who once commanded the 101st Airborne Division. Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has found a following in Hollywood, then came to Petraeus' defense with an ad of his own. MoveOn fired back, with an ad against Giuliani.

The Republican presidential candidate told CNN's John King: "I wish MoveOn.org would do several more commercials attacking me because if they do it could get me nominated."

Giuliani took out another ad against MoveOn. And MoveOn doubled its ad buy against Giuliani.

On Thursday, President Bush got involved, calling MoveOn's ad against Petraeus "disgusting." Also, the U.S. Senate voted 72 to 25 to condemn the "personal attacks on the honor and integrity" of Petraeus. Those voting against the measure included Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, John F. Kerry and Chris Dodd. (Barack Obama was recorded as not voting.)

MoveOn's executive director, Eli Pariser, responded in a statement: "What's disgusting is that the president has more interest in political attacks then developing an exit strategy to get troops out of Iraq and end this awful war."

Bill Zimmerman, the veteran democratic campaign manger who produced the controversial ads, said the group is pleased with the outcome.

"The intent was to elevate these issues by drawing attention to the facts," Zimmerman said. "The idea was to jump start the debate. We succeeded in doing that."

Confident as Zimmerman may be, some Hollywood politicos found that the ads brought up bad memories (like the Fonda scandal).

Opposing the war is one thing, but becoming too shrill is something else entirely. That's the lesson Hollywood took from Vietnam: You could oppose the war as a policy, but you couldn't appear to oppose the troops charged with carrying the fight.

And attacking a sitting president is always risky.

MoveOn, which was founded by two former software executives from Berkeley, generated controversy in 2004 when it released an ad comparing Bush to Hitler.

The group went on to promote Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," urging people to see the movie in its opening weekend.

MoveOn rallied performers to get involved in Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, R.E.M and others hit the road, doing concerts across the country. Al Gore also found himself the beneficiary of MoveOn's support. The group teamed with him in 2004 to help fight global warming. (MoveOn also promoted Gore's Academy Award-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" as well as Michael Moore's movie, "Sicko.")

These days MoveOn's focus is mostly on the war. With Zimmerman as the ad man, MoveOn has defiantly added more of an edge to its efforts. The result was the Petraeus campaign and the subsequent controversy.

Zimmerman, in an interview this week from his Santa Monica office, shrugged off the criticism. Hollywood will just have to stay tuned, he said, there's more coming.

--

tina.daunt@latimes.com

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