The brouhaha over the “General Betray Us” ad evokes mixed feelings in a veteran of advertising acceptance and pricing wars.
Today the Public Editor of the New York Times chides the paper for both the content of and charges for the MoveOn ad that has replaced troop withdrawal from Iraq as the main subject of political contention for almost two weeks.
First, should the Times have accepted the ad? Not without a change of headline. The executive in charge says he was influenced by the question mark, but that won’t wash. He discloses rejection of a previous MoveOn ad until a doctored photo of Dick Cheney was removed. Tacky, insulting, libelous word play on anybody’s name is just as unacceptable.
Standby pricing is tricky. Ostensibly used to fill unsold advertising space at the last minute, because press forms are no more flexible than airline seats, it is often used by overeager sales people to inflate ad lineage figures.
In this case, if MoveOn had not been guaranteed the ad would run that Monday, the price would be defensible. If the Times had retained the option to run it at its own convenience, that would have qualified as standby. But apparently that was not what happened.
Ordinarily, all this would be marginally interesting to media people, if the Republican attack machine had not jumped on it to divert attention from the real Iraq debate, exactly as they did in 2004 with Dan Rather’s reporting on George Bush’s evasion of combat service in Vietnam.
Rather is now suing CBS to correct that distortion, but somebody should be defending the Times from being Rathered over the Iraq war now. It’s too bad political parties don’t have the equivalent of a Public Editor to hold them accountable for their mistakes, few of which are as innocuous as those of newspapers.