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Thursday, September 30, 2004 - Page updated at 10:52 A.M.

Ad watch: Television ad claims Murray weak on terror

By Jim Brunner
Seattle Times staff reporter

Sen. Patty Murray is shown in George Nethercutt's new advertisement speaking to a group of students about Osama bin Laden in 2002.
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In the sharpest attack of his campaign, Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Nethercutt launched a television ad yesterday using video of Democratic incumbent Sen. Patty Murray's controversial comments about Osama bin Laden to portray her as weak on terrorism.

The new ad — which Murray and fellow Democrats quickly denounced as lies — juxtaposes images of bin Laden and the smoldering World Trade Center ruins with video of Murray speaking to high-school students in Vancouver, Wash., in December 2002. During that talk, Murray attributed bin Laden's popularity in parts of the world to his generosity toward the poor.

"He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He's made their lives better. We have not done that." Murray said, in the portion of her comments replayed by the ad.

The ad closes with Nethercutt saying, "Winning the war on terror means fighting terrorists, not excusing them."

Murray denounced the ad.

"George Nethercutt's ad is a lie, and he knows it," she said during a conference call with reporters. "I have always said Osama bin Laden is an evil terrorist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.

"We need to track him down, bring him to justice, dismantle his terrorist network and protect our nation from further attacks," Murray said.

Ad watch

Title: "Different"

Candidate: George Nethercutt, Republican running for U.S. Senate

Time: 30 seconds

Images: Osama bin Laden. World Trade Center wreckage. Patty Murray addressing students. George Nethercutt.

Audio: Announcer: When most Americans think of Osama bin Laden, they think of this. (Image of World Trade Center ruins.) Patty Murray has a different view of Osama bin Laden. Patty Murray: He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He's made their lives better. We have not done that. Announcer: He's made lives better? George Nethercutt: I'm George Nethercutt and I approved this message — because winning the war on terror means fighting terrorists — not excusing them.

Analysis: The ad is accurate to the extent that it uses Murray's own words against her, but it stretches the truth to say Murray was somehow "excusing" Osama bin Laden's terrorist attacks when she made these comments to a high-school class in 2002. Murray was trying to explain why people in some countries have been attracted to the terrorist's message and to suggest the U.S. could do more to build goodwill in poor countries. Still, her comments were puzzling. Some bin Laden experts say the senator was flat wrong to suggest the al-Qaida leader had built schools or day-care facilities. They said his appeal lies in his anti-American terrorist ideology, not any acts of philanthropy. Murray so far has refused to say any of her comments were inaccurate, only that she should have provided "more context."

— Jim Brunner

Murray declined to say she had made any error in her statements about bin Laden cited in the Nethercutt ad. But she did acknowledge that if she had to do it over again, she would "provide more context."

Murray was joined on the conference call by former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran who lost his re-election bid two years ago after GOP ads blasted him for voting against a homeland-security bill.

Cleland called the Nethercutt ad the work of a "Republican slime machine." He lost to Republican Saxby Chambliss after GOP ads paired Cleland's face with images of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Nethercutt defended his ads, saying the war on terrorism is a "defining issue" of the campaign and that Murray's comments were fair game.

"Does she really believe her assertions? I defy her to find a day-care center that Osama bin Laden has built," said Nethercutt, who has represented the 5th Congressional District since 1995.

He added that it was "absurd" to say the U.S. had not been involved in international aid. Nethercutt tried to draw a line between Murray's statements and some votes she cast in the 1990s to cut the defense budget.

"What's her strategy in winning the world on terror? Is it to understand the terrorists or appease them or help them in some way, or is it to fight it?"

Murray said the ad left out the context of what she had told the students — that she was merely trying to get them to think about bin Laden's appeal in the Arab world "and what we might do to combat that."

Prior to the comment excerpted in the Nethercutt ad, Murray had told students, "We've got to ask why is this man so popular around the world? He has been in many countries that are riddled with poverty. People don't have homes, no sewers, no roads, no schools, no health care, no facilities just to make sure their daily lives are OK," according to a transcript of her appearance.

Following the remarks featured in the Nethercutt ad, Murray summed up by telling the students, "Your generation oughta be thinking about whether or not you believe that perhaps we should be better neighbors out in other countries so that they have a different vision of us."

Her campaign yesterday pointed to parts of the 9/11 commission report that call for the U.S. to become more engaged in economic development in nations at risk of breeding terrorists.

Murray's aides also have pointed to a State Department fact sheet that says bin Laden helped build roads, hospitals and other infrastructure in Afghanistan during the guerrilla war against the Soviet Union.

A leading expert on bin Laden said yesterday there was "a germ of truth" in Murray's comments about the al-Qaida leader.

But Peter Bergen, a journalist and author of a book on bin Laden, said there is no evidence bin Laden had built day-care facilities or schools, as Murray suggested. "There's no evidence bin Laden was involved in anything like that," said Bergen, author of "Holy War Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" and an adjunct professor at the Advanced School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

While bin Laden had been involved in building roads, and a $3 million mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Bergen said it was "silly" to suggest his popularity in the Arab world stemmed from his philanthropy. Rather, his allure stemmed from his anti-American political views, Bergen said.

However, Bergen said Murray was correct to suggest that the U.S. could have been more generous over the years in its aid to poor nations of the world. The U.S. has consistently ranked lowest among industrialized nations in terms of the percentage of its gross national product devoted to foreign aid.

As the quick reaction made clear, Murray's campaign had been anticipating such an ad for months. But Republicans had played coy until yesterday.

Last month, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was asked at a Bellevue press briefing whether the GOP planned an ad using bin Laden's image alongside Murray. He replied: "We haven't figured out all of the ads. I really can't imagine such an ad as you describe."

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628

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