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Saturday, October 1, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Magazine ad "unleashes hell" for Boeing and Bell

Seattle Times staff reporter

Boeing and its joint-venture partner Bell Helicopter apologized yesterday for a magazine ad published a month ago — and again this week by mistake — depicting U.S. Special Forces troops rappelling from an Osprey aircraft onto the roof of a mosque.

"It descends from the heavens. Ironically it unleashes hell," reads the ad, which ran this week in the National Journal and earlier in the Armed Forces Journal. The ad also stated: "Consider it a gift from above."

The ad appears at a time when the United States is trying to improve its image in the Muslim world and Boeing seeks to sell its airplanes to Islamic countries.

Boeing and Bell officials agreed that the ad — touting the capabilities of the vertical-lift Osprey aircraft — was ill-conceived and should never have been published.

"We consider the ad offensive, regret its publication and apologize to those who, like us, are dismayed with its contents," said Mary Foerster, a vice president of communication's for Boeing's military side.

Mike Cox, a Bell vice president, said the ad was developed by TM Advertising of Irving, Texas, and then initially released for publication by his company.

"The bottom line is that the [Bell] people who approved this didn't have authority to approve it," Cox said.

The company statements were released yesterday in response to an outcry from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based Islamic civil-liberties group. The building depicted in the ad has an Arabic sign that translates as "Muhammad Mosque," according to the council.

The ad may deepen concern overseas that the war on extremists is a war on Islam, said Corey Saylor, the council's government-affairs director. "This can be used by the extremists to reinforce that — and we certainly don't want that," he said.

The ad image was spliced together by computer from various photographs. One picture was a shot of a Texas movie set, according to Cox. Another was a shot of Special Forces troops rappelling off a wall in California.

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"We didn't actually hover an Osprey over a mosque," Cox said.

The Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter but has greater range. It has had a lengthy and difficult development, with three fatal crashes, once prompting concerns that it would be abandoned. But Congress has approved some $19 billion in contracts. Boeing is responsible for elements including the fuselage and digital avionics, while Bell is responsible for the wing, transmissions, rotor systems and engine installation.

Bell's Cox said his company asked the TM ad agency to come up with an ad depicting the Osprey inserting soldiers into a restrictive, difficult-to-access area.

TM officials yesterday declined to comment on their ad.

Someone at Bell then gave approval to run the ad, according to Cox. It was first published about a month ago in the Armed Forces Journal, which has an audience that includes Pentagon officials and contractors.

As soon as it was published, Boeing officials — alerted of trouble by their own advertising agency — telephoned Bell officials to express their distaste for the ad, according to Walt Rice, a Boeing spokesman.

By then, five or six placements for the ad had already been booked in other magazines, Cox said. The ad was canceled in all of those publications, including the National Journal, which circulates widely in Congress and among Washington lobbyists.

But due to an error, the National Journal mistakenly published the ad this week.

"We had received specific direction from the agency representing Boeing/Bell to not run the ad," said Elizabeth Baker Keffer, executive vice president of National Journal, in a statement released yesterday to the American-Islamic council. "While the mistake was a simple human one, we accept full responsibility for the error. Moreover, we regret any negative impact on your organization and its members."

The prompt damage control should help contain the public-relations fallout for Boeing and Bell, said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation and military analyst for the Teal Group of Fairfax, Va. Still, it amounts to a black eye.

"You can explain this," Aboulafia said. "But people see what they want to see."

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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