NYT ombudsman confirms: MoveOn got a price break it didn't deserve

$142,083 for a full-page ad guaranteed to run on a date certain. $64,575 for a full-page “standby” ad to run on any date of the paper’s choosing within a seven-day period. MoveOn got the date-certain guarantee but paid the standby price even though the ad was foreseeably controversial and ran on the very morning of Petraeus’s hotly anticipated testimony, when the ad reps logically should have been charging an arm and a leg for space. What happened?

It was a “mistake.”

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…

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.”

The ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, also smacks them for letting MoveOn skate on the “Betray Us” crap. The point to take away here is that, as far as I know, Bob Owens was the first person to wonder publicly about the price of the ad but he did so with no evidence to justify his suspicion. All he had to go on was the Times’s shrill institutional anti-war leftism and his own overweening contempt for the media’s ethical standards. And darned if he wasn’t exactly right. Underestimate them at your peril.