WASHINGTON — NBC reversed course Saturday and decided to air a conservative group's television ad thanking U.S. troops.
The ad, by the group Freedom's Watch, asks viewers to remember the troops during the holiday season. NBC had refused to air the ad because it guides viewers to the Freedom's Watch Web site, which NBC said was too political.
But in a statement issued Saturday evening, NBC said:
"We have reviewed and changed our ad standards guidelines and made the decision that our policy will apply to content only and not to a referenced Web site. Based on these amended standards the Freedom's Watch ad will begin to run as early as Sunday."
(Msnbc.com is a joint-venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft.)
NBC's head of standards and practices, Alan Wurtzel, notified Freedom's Watch's media consultant Saturday by e-mail, writing: "This will confirm that the Freedom's Watch spot is approved for air."
Freedom's Watch President Bradley A. Blakeman welcomed the decision. "We're actually very happy that NBC has agreed to change its position because it will only help the troops be properly thanked," he said.
NBC initially said that airing the spot would violate the network's prohibition on controversial issue ads. Wurtzel, in an interview Friday with The Associated Press, said NBC found nothing wrong with the ad's content, but rather objected to the link to http://www.FreedomsWatch.org, viewing the Web site as too political.
"I think they had an agenda," Blakeman said. "They didn't like our Web site and didn't like what we stood for."
The group's home page is critical of liberals and has a link to a page urging lawmakers not to "cut and run" from the war in Iraq. The home page also links to another Freedom's Watch page dedicated to ways to assist the troops and provides links to organizations that send care packages to soldiers.
News of NBC's initial rejection caused an angry reaction on the Internet. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on the Fox News Channel on Friday, called for a boycott of NBC.
Freedom's Watch, a group backed by wealthy Republican fundraisers, has emerged as one of the best-financed conservative groups. It seeks to be a vocal advocate of President Bush's current policy in Iraq.
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