Joe Conason: Unlike VoteVets.org, the organization founded by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that has emerged as one of the most effective critics of the war, Freedom's Watch uses killed and wounded veterans and their families in its advertising, but is not operated or supported by actual veterans. Instead, the founders of Freedom's Watch include notable Republican fundraisers such as Melvin Sembler, the shopping mall magnate whose rewards have included ambassadorial posts in Australia and most recently in Italy; Anthony Gioia, a Buffalo, N.Y., macaroni manufacturer who served as ambassador to Malta; Howard Leach, a wealthy California grocery distributor who served as ambassador to France; and Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who is among the richest men in the world. The supporters listed in Freedom's Watch's first press release also include at least eight more major Republican donors.
But all those generous gentlemen are probably just providing the money for the national advertising rollout. The brains behind this operation are former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who spent many hours on the press podium repeating the same misleading messages now promoted by Freedom's Watch, and Brad Blakeman, a former White House and campaign scheduling director for President Bush who frequently appears on cable TV to advocate administration policy as a "Republican strategist." Executing their strategy are the sharp public relations consultants at Jamestown Associates, a nationally known Republican firm whose clients have included dozens of GOP officeholders, a variety of conservative organizations and fronts, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
With people like these in charge, the Freedom's Watch advertising campaign – expected to cost as much as $15 million in its first phase – obviously has nothing to do with "politics."
Or else [the ads] have everything to do with politics, namely to bolster the embattled base of support for Bush and intimidate Republicans who might defect during the next phase of the congressional struggle over the war.… (More)