There aren't enough smelling salts in the entire world to stop the fainting fits on the right over MoveOn's "BetrayUs" ad. The latest collective swoon comes in response to a Daily News article in which Rich Schapiro reveals definitive 'proof' that MoveOn got special treatment from the Times ad people:
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.
And who says it was guaranteed to run on Sept. 10? Is the fact that the ad ran on Sept. 10 proof that MoveOn was guaranteed it would run on that day?
Well, yes -- if you are inclined to draw that conclusion from vague statements implicating unnamed Times staffers:
"We made a mistake," Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, told the newspaper's public editor.
Mathis said an advertising representative left the liberal group with the understanding that the ad would run that Monday even though they had been charged the standby rate.
The group should have paid $142,083 to ensure placement that day.
Again, where is the evidence that MoveOn received any such assurance? According to Eli Pariser, MoveOn's executive director, MoveOn asked for the ad to appear on Sept. 10, was told there was room for it that day, and was quoted the same rate they had been given in the past:
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.So let me get this straight. The ad would have appeared on Sept. 10, which was the date MoveOn wanted it to appear, whether the ad representative had told MoveOn it was a standby ad, or not -- because there was room for the ad on Sept. 10. So the argument here is that the rep did not explicitly state the ad was not guaranteed to run on Monday. It would have run on that date anyway, because there was room for it. But because it ran on the requested date without the rep saying it was "standby," it's a scandal, and treason, and a violation of FCC regulations; whereas if the rep had used the word "standby," it would have been fine, perfectly legitimate, no problem.
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.”
Harto at The Democratic Daily is similarly bemused:
...[L]et me see if I get this right: because the ad appeared on the right day, and it was on “standby,” the rate for the timing should have been double? But if it had appeared on standby because no one tried to buy the timing, it was the right price? Gee. I guess I fail to see a huge scandalous difference. ...
Don't count on the Times to point this out, though. They are too busy penning groveling mea culpas, such as this one by public editor Clark Hoyt. Under the title "Betraying Its Own Best Interests," Hoyt writes:
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.
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.”
Since when has the Bush administration had trouble finding opportunities to "change the subject" on the heinousness of post-9/11 foreign policy? The problem here is not the New York Times giving "fresh ammunition" to liberal-media bashers; the problem is the Times and the rest of the corporate media's willingness to allow the right to invent red herrings like "the liberal media" and use them to hijack legitimate debate.
*Figures taken from icasualties.org.