Cue the band and start marching?

Published December 3, 2004 9:22PM (EST)

"George W. Bush: Our Leader."

That message, stamped in looming letters alongside the president's smiling mug, currently graces several billboards in Orlando, Florida, along Interstate 4. Some images of the billboards were posted on Democratic just before the Thanksgiving holiday, and have been making the rounds on the Web since. The billboards in question are controlled by media juggernaut Clear Channel Communications, and also carry a tag saying that the contents are a "political public service message brought to you by Clear Channel Outdoor."

Raw Story's John Byrne reports that Clear Channel corporate spokesmen are brushing aside any responsibility for the billboards.

"In response to inquiries from Raw Story and the Associated Press, Clear Channel Outdoor issued a statement asserting that the billboards content was the product of the local office of the company, and not a corporate decision.

"'Clear Channel Outdoor markets are operated locally,' Tony Alwin, Senior Vice President, Creative for Clear Channel Outdoor, said. 'Local managers determine what copy to use when a location has time that is not sold to an advertiser.' Clear Channel Outdoor Orlando said they could not respond to requests for comment this week because their press person was 'away.' They referred calls to their San Antonio corporate parent, which did not return two messages for comment.

"The Orlando Associated Press bureau said they had seen at least one sign but didnt plan a story. They suggested that the signs would only become a story were there a public response to the billboards, and that the county in which they were situated would probably meet the signs with 'a warm response.'"

But at least some Floridians, as Byrne notes, find the billboard campaign to be more chilling than sunny:

"One Orlando resident penned a concerned letter to the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday. 'The first thing I thought was, when was the last time I have seen a president on a billboard?' wrote resident Dianna Lawson. 'Didnt Saddam Hussein have his picture up everywhere? What next, a statue?'"

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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