NYT's Public Editor Says Paper Made Mistake Running MoveOn’s ‘Betray Us’ Ad

If you thought the controversy over MoveOn's disgraceful "General Betray Us" ad was going away any time soon, think again.

On Sunday, the Times's public editor Clark Hoyt came out strongly against the paper's decision to run this piece of detritus claiming that MoveOn got a price "that it should not have received under Times policies," and 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.'"

Hoyt expressed his disagreement with the paper early and often (emphasis added throughout, h/t Pat Campbell):

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.


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.


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.

Bravo, Clark. Bravo.

As a delicious sidebar, liberal talk radio host Lionel was on Fox News's "Fox & Friends" with conservative radio host Pat Campbell last Sunday discussing this issue (audio available here).

At the time, Lionel claimed it was a lie that MoveOn received a favorable rate for this ad.

I wonder whether Lionel will publicly admit he was wrong given Hoyt's revelations.

I for one will not be holding my breath.

MoveOn.org New York Times David Petraeus
Noel Sheppard's picture