After a slew of denials by apologists for the New York Times, the paper itself acknowledged that it gave MoveOn a discount for its full-page “Betray Us” ad. The standby rate which the Times charged MoveOn applies to ads where the run date is not fixed — and the ad specifically got sold for the Monday when General David Petraeus made his first Congressional appearance:
The old gray lady has some explaining to do.
Officials at the New York Times have admitted a liberal activist group was permitted to pay half the rate it should have for a provocative ad condemning U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.
The MoveOn ad, which cast Petraeus as “General Betray Us” and attacked his truthfulness, ran on the same day the commander made a highly anticipated appearance before Congress.
But since the liberal group paid the standby rate of $64,575 for the full-page ad, it should not have been guaranteed to run on Sept. 10, the day Petraeus warned Congress against a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Times personnel said.
“We made a mistake,” Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, told the newspaper’s public editor.
According to the Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, that’s not the only way the paper showed its bias:
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.
Jesperson insisted that he “erred on the side of public discourse”, and that the question mark at the end of “Betray Us?” made all the difference in the world. Hoyt didn’t buy that argument, calling an accusation of betrayal a “particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier.” I’d argue it this way: if I ran an ad in the Paper of Record that read, “Jesperson — Brain-Damaged Traitor?”, would Jesperson still feel that the question mark made the accusation fair?
The Times got caught with its pants down and its biases exposed. Hoyt not only acknowledges the obvious, he undermines the ridiculous meme that got floated about the standby rate, which the ad itself obviously refutes in its use of “today” when referring to Petraeus’ testimony. Even the Gray Lady can’t dance around that.