Times ‘Fesses Up to Public Editor on MoveOn Ad

For much of last week, The New York Times was defending itself against charges they gave a special rate for a controversial full-page ad to the liberal antiwar group, MoveOn.org.

The ad, with the headline "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?", elicited outraged responses from President George W. Bush, Rudolph Giuliani and other Republicans, and more so when it was revealed that MoveOn was given a "standby rate" of $65,000. Times spokespersons said last week that this was a typical rate. But the fashion in which it was given, it turns out, was not typical.

 

Times public editor Clark Hoyt wrote in his Public Editor column yesterday:

 

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.”

 

And then there's the somewhat baffling response of publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.: “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.”