Sunday, September 23, 2007

MoveOn's "Betrayus" ad: Even the Public Editor finds fault at the NYT 

The decision to run MoveOn's poisonous "Betrayus" ad continues to haunt the New York Times. It's Public Editor, Clark Hoyt -- or, more accurately, even its Public Editor, Clark Hoyt -- has found that the Times violated its own policies in running the ad:

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.

If you dig through Hoyt's column it really does seem as though the discounted rate was nothing more than a sales rep's error. Whether an error or the pushing of a boundary by an aggressive rep who needs commissions to pay for his Manhattan studio, I (even I?) accept that explanation. Sales reps eat what they kill, and that means that they sell aggressively regardless of politics.

I am not, however, so accepting of Steph Jespersen's defense that the ad was acceptable speech because it was a "comment on a public official's management of his office." Without knowing a thing about Jespersen's politics, one is forced to wonder whether he would have considered an ad submitted by a right-wing group that depicted, say, Nancy Pelosi, in the same way. It is a marginally less implausible accusation in Pelosi's case because she openly opposes the policies of the United States in dealing with, say, Syria (how silly does her trip there look now?), but it is very hard to believe that an executive whose professional advancement rests on the approval of his colleagues at the Times would see it that way.

UPDATE: Kim Priestap at Wizbang is a lot tougher on the sales rep excuse:
Since when does an advertising salesperson have the authority to offer such a huge discount like this one? No word on who gave MoveOn.org the same cheap rates on their previous ads.

While I stand second to no one in my willingness to bash the NYT, I do not think that is a fair reading of the story or the more likely interpetation of the bureaucratic dynamic within the paper's advertising sales office. I suspect that the price offered MoveOn was not a "discount," per se, but the actual authorized price for standby space. The rep may well have known that he had standby space for that issue in the bag when he made the sale and, being a sales rep, felt no need to explain the finer points of the deal to MoveOn. Point is, I doubt the reps need approval to sell standby space, and I imagine that the experienced reps know when standby space is likely to be available. Yes, it may have been that the rep was in technical violation of the company's standard operating procedures, but that does not really matter in the abstract. He's selling advertising space, not implantable defibrillators.


By Blogger antithaca, at Sun Sep 23, 10:58:00 AM:

ok. "standby space". since when did "standby space" get your ad run the day before an event?

isn't this an obvious question nobody seems to be asking?  

By Blogger tm, at Sun Sep 23, 11:53:00 AM:

mike, it's previously been noted that the Times will do its best to accommodate an advertiser's preferred day.

So the horrific error by the sales rep was that s/he said, "yes, we'll run it Monday," rather than, "we're almost certain it'll be run Monday."  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Sep 23, 12:16:00 PM:

Jpe, that's my take, too.But the substantive review of the ad's content is more likely to be rooted in the ideology of the Times, I think.  

By Blogger SR, at Sun Sep 23, 01:52:00 PM:

TH: usually you exhibit uncommon wisdom and reason. In this case however, I'll wager you'd change your mind if you called the NYT and askewd for the "Move On" rate for a full page ad.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 23, 04:02:00 PM:

SR, I read TH because of this kind of balance and reason to stories instead of the predictable pablum one finds at most of the right leaning blogs.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 23, 08:13:00 PM:

I hope this costs the NEW YORK SLIMES several hundred more readers  

By Blogger boreal, at Mon Sep 24, 05:05:00 AM:

Hi Tiger,
It's not as Siberian as it used to be, up here.
Both our observations+conclusions differ from Yrs.
When Jack Benny and George Allen started feudin' more soap got sold.
Imagine that.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 24, 03:07:00 PM:

Agree with anon-at least Tigerhawk is thinking about this from the correct angle, and as much as I never agree with his viewpoint, he does have this annoying tendency to be reasonable and because of this I am not able to despise him as much as I really really wanna!!!! :)

Bird Of Paradise-this may cost the Times a few readers, but the bestest thing is that it has caused MoveOn contributions to skyrocket! Thanks, wingnuts!  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Sep 24, 09:48:00 PM:

That's very big of you.  

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