CLEARWATER — The first red flag in the BeautifulPeople.com press release was: "…Clearwater, Florida — the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention."
That false distinction — Tampa is the true host — cast doubt on the accuracy of the entire press release. Published online Tuesday, it also spread a claim across the Internet that the city of Clearwater had banned one of the dating website's new promotional billboards.
In fact, Clearwater did not reject the company's advertisement. The billboard company did.
BeautifulPeople.com wanted to advertise its new dating sites for gays and lesbians on a billboard near the intersection of State Road 580 and Belcher Road — not even in Clearwater, but in unincorporated Pinellas.
The advertisement the website wanted to put on the billboard depicted look-a-likes of well-known national politicians of the same gender being married by President Barack Obama.
In one of the advertisements, an Obama look-a-like is presiding over the marriage of the look-a-likes of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and billionaire Donald Trump. In another, Obama is marrying the likenesses of former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who are kissing.
The billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor, rejected the advertisements. So BeautifulPeople.com put up a different ad. It shows just the outlines of the look-a-likes and has the word CENSORED stripped across the images.
Then the website put out the press release accusing the City of Clearwater of censorship.
Jim Cullinan, vice president of marketing and communications at Clear Channel Outdoor, said the dating website's use of the resemblance of politicians posed legal issues for his company.
"Any reasonable person driving along the highway seeing that bill would mistakenly take that for the real thing," he said.
"It's not censorship, it's simply legality," he added.
City officials brought the errors in the press release to the attention of BeautifulPeople.com, which has since apologized to the city and issued a retraction.
"We would like to sincerely apologize to the City of Clearwater, Florida, who have since advised that they did not object to the original campaign content and had no say regarding the content approval process," the statement reads. "We have now been informed that Clear Channel Outdoor refused the original billboards."
Joelle Castelli, spokeswoman for the city, said the release had the potential to spread false and negative publicity about the city nationally, but she is satisfied with the correction.
But Castelli did wonder how the website could have confused Clearwater with Tampa.
"If you've visited twice," she said, "you know Clearwater and Tampa are not the same thing."