The New York Times acknowledged Sunday that a controversial advertisement attacking Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, was sold to a liberal activist group at a discount rate the organization was not entitled to receive, and that the paper violated its own advertising policies when it published the ad.
In a column published Sunday entitled, "Betraying Its Own Best Interests," Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt wrote that after reviewing the Times' policies regarding the sale and content of advertisements and conducting his own investigation of the matter, "I think the ad violated the Times' own written standards, and the paper now says that the advertiser got a price break it was not entitled to."
According to the column, MoveOn.org purchased the ad at a "standby" rate of $64,575 when it should have been charged $142,083. To receive standby rates, advertisers cannot be guaranteed a date when their ads will run, but the sales representative who sold the ad to MoveOn.org told the organization that the ad would run on Monday, Sept. 10—the day that Petraeus was to appear before Congress.
Hoyt wrote in the column that Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for the Times, told him that the price was "a mistake," and that "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 ... That was contrary to our policies."
In a statement on Sunday, MoveOn.org says that they was not aware that they were receiving a special advertising rate, and says that they will pay the Times the difference between that regular advertising rate and the one they received.
"Now that the Times has revealed this mistake for the first time, and while we believe that the $142,083 figure is above the market rate paid by most organization, out of an abundance of caution we have decided to pay that rate for this ad. We will therefore wire the $77,083 difference to the Times tomorrow (Monday)," said MoveOn.org in the statement.
The group went on in the statement to call for former New York City mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, who they say received the same ad deal for the same price, to pay the corrected fee as well.
Hoyt said the content of the ad—a full-page advertisement that questioned Petraeus' truthfulness with the headline "Gen. Petraeus or Gen. Betray Us?" violated Times advertising policy.
"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 wrote. He wrote that the Times director of advertising acceptability, Steph Jespersen, told him that while he did think the language of the Petraeus ad 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."
Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., was not aware of the MoveOn.org ad until it appeared in the paper, Hoyt wrote.
"If we're going to err, its 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," Sulzberger told Hoyt.
Hoyt wrote in the column that he disagrees with the decisions made by the Times employees responsible for the ad being published.
"For me, two values collided here: the right of free speech — even if its 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," Hoyt wrote. "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."