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Banner causes political flap

A banner ad alluding to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky has become a hot potato in the world of online advertising.

President Clinton isn't the only one finding himself in a heap of trouble over Monica Lewinsky.

A Web page banner ad alluding to the former White House intern has become a hot potato in the world of online advertising. USA Today pulled the banner after it ran less than a week. The Washingtonpost.com and Microsoft's Hotmail refused to run it at all, according to online scheduling service Appoint.net.

And tonight, upon being informed of its content, the chief executive of a company distributing the ad decided to pull it as well.

The ad, created for Appoint.net by Philadelphia agency Gyro Advertising, portrays Clinton and states in three succeeding frames, "Ruling the free world," "and dating interns," "takes a highly organized schedule."

"We were shocked when all these sites refused it," said Appoint.net president and chief executive Richard Rasansky. "Every day, every paper you pick up has this subject all over the place."

Rasansky, who described himself as a supporter of Clinton's, said the ad had boosted click-through rates by 400 percent.

"Calendars are kind of a dull subject," admitted Rasansky. "We wanted to do something to make it exciting."

At least in the world of online advertising, Rasansky appears to have succeeded.

After being contacted by CNET's NEWS.COM, an agency that was previously fighting to have the ad displayed on Hotmail and the Washingtonpost.com and succeeded in having it run on CNN and Globe.com, decided to stop distributing it altogether.

"I pulled the ad once I found out what it was--about three minutes ago," WebConnect managing partner Roy Schwedelson said today.

Schwedelson, who is also chief executive of WebConnect parent company Worldata, described the ad as "tasteless" and blamed it on an "underling's error."

Appoint.net's Rasansky reacted with renewed shock to the news that WebConnect had pulled the ad.

"I'm doubly shocked," said Rasansky. "What's very interesting is that he hasn't even seen the ad and he's pulling it. I can't even fathom how he can do it."

Rasansky noted that the ad also was being circulated to hundreds of sites through LinkExchange, and that Appoint.net itself would begin serving the ad to the sites that had previously been served by WebConnect.

This is not the first time scandals surrounding the president's alleged extramarital affairs have been fodder for advertising involving the Internet.

Search engine Excite found itself the recipient of a cease-and-desist letter from the White House legal department after running an ad in conventional media featuring the president's signature with reminders that he should, among other things, "buy lingerie for that special someone."

That ad campaign began before the Lewinsky scandal broke.

Despite invoking the mantle of free speech in a press release, Rasansky hedged when asked if the banner's fate constituted a civil rights violation.

"I don't know if it's a free-speech issue," said Rasansky. "I think it's a gray area."