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."UPDATE: Out of what the group calls "an abundance of caution," MoveOn has unilaterally decided to pay the difference between the standard ad rate and what they had paid for the "Betray Us" ad. In a press release, MoveOn honcho Eli Pariser wrote:
MoveOn continues, of course, to stand by the content of the advertisement and to urge citizens and their elected representatives in the Congress to focus on the continued dishonesty of the Bush Administration and the American blood and treasure being lost in a war for which the Administration has no exit strategy. Certainly that issue is more worthy of the attention of the electorate and the media than the mistake of an advertising representative or the wording of an advertisement.