FOR nearly two weeks, The New York Times has been defending a political advertisement that critics say was an unfair shot at the American commander in Iraq.
Did MoveOn.org get favored treatment from The Times? And was the ad outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse?
The answer to the first question is that MoveOn.org paid what is known in the newspaper industry as a standby rate of $64,575 that it should not have received under Times policies. The group should have paid $142,083. The Times had maintained for a week that the standby rate was appropriate, but a company spokeswoman told me late Thursday afternoon that an advertising sales representative made a mistake.
The answer to the second question is that the ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, “We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.” Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, said that, while it was “rough” he regarded it as a comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for The Times to print.
Eli Pariser, the executive director of MoveOn.org, told me that his group called The Times on the Friday before Petraeus’s appearance on Capitol Hill and asked for a rush ad in Monday’s paper. He said The Times called back and “told us there was room Monday, and it would cost $65,000.” Pariser said there was no discussion about a standby rate. “We paid this rate before, so we recognized it” he said. Advertisers who get standby rates aren’t guaranteed what day their ad will appear, only that it will be in the paper within seven days.
So this isn’t the first time the NYT has given MoveOn a special rate.
Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, said, “We made a mistake.” She said the advertising representative failed to make it clear that for that rate The Times could not guarantee the Monday placement but left MoveOn.org with the understanding that the ad would run then. She added, “That was contrary to our policies.”
“Contrary to our policies”? That’s a delicate way of putting it. Bbbbut, there’s no liberal bias at play here:
The Times bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially. Jespersen has rejected an ad from the National Right to Life Committee, not, he said, because of its message but because it pictured aborted fetuses. He also rejected an ad from MoveOn.org that contained a doctored photograph of Cheney. The photo was replaced, and the ad ran.
Sulzberger, who said he wasn’t aware of MoveOn.org’s latest ad until it appeared in the paper, said: “If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue. … Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.”
Yeah, I’ll say. To his kind of people, anyway.
This is big news in the conservative blogosphere, and you can read tons of reax here.
Thanks to ST reader Leslie for the tip.
- Then-NYT public editor Daniel Okrent: “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? Of course it is.”
PM Update: MoveOn.org has offered to pay full price for the ad, and is calling on Rudy Giuliani to do the same for the ad he ran.