A Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman acknowledged the editing of the image, which was still posted today at the top of the Bush website to publicize the 60-second ad titled "Whatever It Takes."
The ad, distributed this week to national cable channels, shows an excerpt of Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. In it, Bush is shown talking about his compassion for the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families.
In the 45th second, however, the ad shifts to an image of a sea of camouflage-clad military personnel who are apparently listening to the president speak at another rally. As the image comes into focus over the course of about four seconds, a handful of the troops can be seen clearly replicated in various spots in the crowd. This visual cloning was pointed out by the blog www.dailykos.com.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the crowd shot was taken from an actual rally. But he said that a podium was obstructing part of the crowd in the original photograph, so the makers of the ad altered it.
"On the still photograph we used, there was an obstruction in the photo, so a small part of the crowd was edited," Schmidt said. "In fact, the photograph of the troops does not show the full size of the crowd that was there."
However, Schmidt said he was not immediately certain of the date and location of the troop-rally photograph.
"What the photo shows is the president speaking to U.S. military forces, American soldiers. The soldiers are all real," Schmidt said.
The revelation about the doctored photograph came as the Bush campaign was touting the ad as one of its final appeals to voters before Tuesday's election.
Democratic challenger John F. Kerry's campaign jumped to ridicule the ad.
"Now we know why this ad is named 'Whatever it Takes,'" said Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart. "This administration has always had a problem telling the truth from Iraq to jobs to healthcare. The Bush campaign's advertising has been consistently dishonest in what they say. But today, it's been exposed for being dishonest about what we see. If they won't tell the truth in an ad, they won't tell the truth about anything else."
Schmidt said the campaign would yank the ad tonight and replace it with a new ad. To the Kerry campaign's statement, he replied: "The soldiers in those ads are the very ones that John Kerry voted against" when he opposed an $87 billion Iraq and Afghanistan funding bill in October 2003.