NY Times Ad Violation of It’s Own Personal Attack Policy

The NY Times violated its own policy in running the controversal personal attack ad against General Petraeus. In addition to violating policy regarding advertisment it also gave Moveon.org the ad at more than half off.

Liberals have been crying about the backlash they received, however this shows that the backlash is justified. I think General Petraeus should consider a libel suit against both the NY Times and MoveOn.org.

I know the liberals are claiming free speech, last I knew libel and slander are not covered under free speech and the attack on General Petraeus is definitely on the border of both crimes. Fortunately for the Times and Moveon, I think General Petraeus is a better man than that.

Published: September 23, 2007

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.

But I think the ad violated The Times’s own written standards, and the paper now says that the advertiser got a price break it was not entitled to.

On Monday, Sept. 10, the day that Gen. David H. Petraeus came before Congress to warn against a rapid withdrawal of troops, The Times carried a full-page ad attacking his truthfulness.

Under the provocative headline “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” the ad, purchased by the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, charged that the highly decorated Petraeus was “constantly at war with the facts” in giving upbeat assessments of progress and refusing to acknowledge that Iraq is “mired in an unwinnable religious civil war.”

“Today, before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us,” MoveOn.org declared.

The ad infuriated conservatives, dismayed many Democrats and ignited charges that the liberal Times aided its friends at MoveOn.org with a steep discount in the price paid to publish its message, which might amount to an illegal contribution to a political action committee. In more than 4,000 e-mail messages, people around the country raged at The Times with words like “despicable,” “disgrace” and “treason.”

President George W. Bush called the ad “disgusting.” The Senate, controlled by Democrats, voted overwhelmingly to condemn the ad.

Vice President Dick Cheney said the charges in the ad, “provided at subsidized rates in The New York Times” were “an outrage.” Thomas Davis III, a Republican congressman from Virginia, demanded a House investigation. The American Conservative Union filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission against MoveOn.org and The New York Times Company. FreedomsWatch.org, a group recently formed to support the war, asked me to investigate because it said it wasn’t offered the same terms for a response ad that MoveOn.org got.

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.

By the end of last week the ad appeared to have backfired on both MoveOn.org and fellow opponents of the war in Iraq — and on The Times. It gave the Bush administration and its allies an opportunity to change the subject from questions about an unpopular war to defense of a respected general with nine rows of ribbons on his chest, including a Bronze Star with a V for valor. And it gave fresh ammunition to a cottage industry that loves to bash The Times as a bastion of the “liberal media.”

How did this happen?

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.

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.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times and chairman of its parent company, declined to name the salesperson or to say whether disciplinary action would be taken.

Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability, reviewed the ad and approved it. He said the question mark after the headline figured in his decision.

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.”

For me, two values collided here: the right of free speech — even if it’s abusive speech — and a strong personal revulsion toward the name-calling and personal attacks that now pass for political dialogue, obscuring rather than illuminating important policy issues. For The Times, there is another value: the protection of its brand as a newspaper that sets a high standard for civility. Were I in Jespersen’s shoes, I’d have demanded changes to eliminate “Betray Us,” a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier.

In the fallout from the ad, Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor and a Republican presidential candidate, demanded space in the following Friday’s Times to answer MoveOn.org. He got it — and at the same $64,575 rate that MoveOn.org paid.

Bradley A. Blakeman, former deputy assistant to President Bush for appointments and scheduling and the head of FreedomsWatch.org, said his group wanted to run its own reply ad last Monday and was quoted the $64,575 rate on a standby basis. The ad wasn’t placed, he said, because the newspaper wouldn’t guarantee him the day or a position in the first section. Sulzberger said all advocacy ads normally run in the first section.

Mathis said that since the controversy began, the newspaper’s advertising staff has been told it must adhere consistently to its pricing policies.

Little Green Footballs, lays it out a little more blunt than I did, but you have to agree with it.

It wouldn’t be the New York Times, though, if he didn’t try one little weak spin.

In a weasely attempt to throw some blame back on the people who were outraged by this disgusting advertisment, Clark Hoyt echoes the statements of terror groups like Hamas, who only denounce violence because it hurts their image and gives people an “excuse” to “change the subject.”


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