The Exxon Corp. recently gave the Alaska Visitors Association $7 million to finance a nationwide advertising campaign, according to one news story, to "win back potential tourists still scared away by last year's oil spill."

Exxon's public relations genius has struck again.The Alaska Visitors Association is a non-profit organization that receives both public and private money to promote tourism. It's not surprising that its members successfully hit up Exxon to help revive tourism.

But the new campaign has only misled the public about the "clean-up" of Prince William Sound.

Perhaps you saw the ads: As stock footage of Alaska's unparalleled beauty rolls across the TV screen, a seductive baritone talks about Prince William Sound: "See its pristine shoreline, nearly recovered after last year's spill." Nearly recovered? Who says?

An isolated mistake? Here's a line from another ad: "Alaska, where the winter storms and cleanup efforts have nearly restored the part of Prince William Sound hit by last year's oil spill." Nearly restored? Says who?

From a purely scientific standpoint no scientist not paid by Exxon is going to pronounce anytime soon that Prince William Sound is "nearly recovered" after the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into these waters.

I remember one vivid image on last year's news of an Alaska Native weeping not just for the loss of food from the sea, but for a shattered way of life. Are all the people who live in Prince William Sound "nearly restored," too?

The Alaska Visitors Association could easily have focused on other aspects of Alaska tourism in their ads. They might point out, for example, that the spill affected a relatively small part of the state and that there is still plenty of pristine Alaska to see.

Instead, Exxon is rewarded with a positive spin on its questionable cleanup.

Exxon knows airing its own ads would invite skepticism. Even brain-dead tubeheads would immediately see through them, so tax-deductible dollars, written off as a business expense by Exxon, go to an innocuous-sounding group.

The Alaska Visitors Association tells the nation that the oil spill is a but fading memory because Prince William Sound is, you see, "nearly recovered."