- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Even in the highly negotiable realm of newspaper advertising rates, the deal MoveOn.org got for its “General Petraeus or Betray Us?” full-page advertisement in the New York Times raises legitimate questions. Thanks to onerous campaign-finance laws championed by the New York Times (and opposed by this newspaper), this deal among sweethearts may warrant examination by the Federal Election Commission. The question is whether the New York Times effectively made an “in-kind” contribution to MoveOn.org.

The issue hinges on whether the newspaper’s “stand-by” rate — $45,575 for a full-page, black-and-white advertisement with no guarantee to run on a given day — became more than the stand-by rate. Such an advertisement with a guaranteed “run date” costs more than three times that. Two additional details raising interesting questions have now come to light. The first suggests that MoveOn.org knew, for certain, that the advertisement would run on Monday, Sept. 10. The other suggests that the newspaper had told certain persons on the previous Friday that the advertisement would run on Monday. This matters, because such treatment could arguably constitute the “in-kind” contribution to a political-action committee subject to legal restrictions.

“Today, before Congress and before the American people,” the advertisement said, “General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us.” That was clearly written with the certain knowledge that it would appear on Monday, the first day of Gen. Petraeus’ testimony. Producers at the Sunday-morning talk shows apparently received e-mail messages from employees of the New York Times before the weekend telling them that the advertisement would appear in Monday’s editions. (Some “variable” rate.)

The signs point to continuing favorable treatment for MoveOn.org. And while Rudy Giuliani’s campaign requested a similar deal and got it, Freedom Watch asked for the same deal as Moveon.org and was told no. Rep. Tom Davis, ranking Republican of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called on Chairman Henry Waxman to investigate the MoveOn.org deal.

We think a newspaper has the legal right to take any advertisement it chooses, and charge whatever an advertiser agrees to, but a newspaper is very foolish to play games with its reputation. Fair treatment is only good business. So is restraining its political passions.

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