Accusations that the New York Times gave a price break to MoveOn.org for its ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus didn’t strike me as all that interesting. When it comes to newspaper advertising, everything is for sale, and the official rate card is often just a way to start negotiations.
But Times public editor Clark Hoyt says the Times made a mistake — that the price MoveOn paid ($65,000 as opposed to $142,000) was for a “standby” ad for which a specific day of publication could not be guaranteed. The MoveOn folks wanted their ad run on the Monday of the week that Petraeus was to testify on Capitol Hill, and they got their wish.
So how did it happen? Hoyt doesn’t quite say. But it sounds like an ad salesman wanted a commission.
Hoyt also doesn’t think the ad should have run at all. I disagree. As I’ve said before, the ad was an unfair attack on an honorable public official, although it’s hardly so offensive that it warranted breaking out the smelling salts.
The Times is a public trust, and its ad pages ought to be as open to political speech as possible, offensive or otherwise. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. gets it right when he tells Hoyt, “If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue.”
Update: Looks like MoveOn just cost Rudy Giuliani $77,000. From a press release:
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, September 24, 2007).
We call on Mayor Giuliani, who received exactly the same ad deal for the same price, to pay the corrected fee also.