Sunday, September 23, 2007

NYT editor slams paper over 'General Betray Us' ad

(CNN) -- The public editor for The New York Times slammed his employer Sunday in a column, saying the newspaper violated its policies by cutting a deal on a controversial ad criticizing the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

"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," wrote Clark Hoyt, who analyzes the newspaper's coverage as the "readers' representative."

The public editor works outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper, and Hoyt's column states that his opinions and conclusions are his own.

In his Sunday column, Hoyt wrote that "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."

Hoyt noted, however, that the executive who approved the ad did not view it as a personal attack. Rudy Giuliani, a leading GOP presidential candidate and former New York mayor, received the same rate for a response ad he placed days later, Hoyt wrote.

"The Times bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially," he added.

Hoyt based his assertion about an alleged violation of the standards of The New York Times on "an internal advertising acceptability manual" that he quoted as saying, "We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature."

The executive who approved the ad, Hoyt wrote, said the ad was "rough" but that "he regarded it as a comment on a public official's management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for The Times to print."

The full-page ad, which ran the same day as Gen. David Petraeus' testimony to Congress about the state of affairs in Iraq, did not address Petraeus' personal life.

The ad -- titled "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" -- called the general "a military man constantly at war with the facts" and cited quotes of Petraeus that differed from independent reports and news stories., a liberal advocacy group, contacted The Times the Friday before Petraeus' Monday appearance on Capitol Hill and asked for a "rush ad" in the newspaper's Monday edition, Hoyt wrote. Receiving a guarantee on a specific publication date is enough to command the higher rate, according to his column.

Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for the newspaper, said, "We made a mistake" and that an ad representative failed to explain to that The Times could not guarantee Monday placement at that rate, Hoyt wrote.

The Petraeus ad stoked bitter partisanship as soon as it appeared. Republicans decried the ad and pressed Democrats to condemn it. Many Democrats distanced themselves from the ad. Some said they would not apologize for something they had no control over.

Last week, President Bush called the ad "disgusting." VideoWatch Bush attack the attack on Petraeus »

Eli Pariser, executive director for's Political Action Committee, responded to Bush's criticism by saying "What's disgusting is that the president has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war."

Political analysts say the GOP was trying to force Democrats to risk losing either the support of those who admire the highly decorated general or those who agree with MoveOn.

In a 72-25 vote, the Senate approved a resolution last week condemning the ad.

"This amendment gives our colleagues a chance to distance themselves from these despicable tactics, distance themselves from the notion that some group literally has them on a leash, like a puppet on a string," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

Republicans filibustered a Democratic proposal that condemned past GOP attacks on former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia and on Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said Sen. Hillary Clinton, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

On CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Clinton was asked about Bush's assertion that Democrats "are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like, or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal."

Clinton said he believed that the GOP was trying to turn the nation's attention to the ad so it can avoid answering questions about U.S. policy in Iraq. She also slammed the Bush attacks on Cleland and Kerry, both of whom were military men before going to Capitol Hill.

"I thought it was pretty sorry when his campaign attacked Senator Kerry's record of service, and I thought it was pretty sorry when the Republicans attacked Senator Cleland," she said. "I don't condone attacks by anyone on the patriotism and service of our military. I am an admirer of General Petraeus."

She added, "This debate should be about the president's failed policies. The Republicans are very good at coming up with political strategies, but unfortunately, they don't seem to have a very adequate grasp of military or geopolitical strategies that will forward America's standing, position, values and interests in the world."