MoveOn ‘Betray Us’ Ad Got Standby Discount

Via Jeff Jarvis, I see that the NYT has explained why MoveOn’s infamous “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad got such a big discount over the regular rates:

Within the category of political or advocacy advertising it is common practice throughout the newspaper industry to offer a standby rate in addition to open rate advertising. When a group buys a standby ad, it can request a particular date for it to be run, but receives no guarantee that it can appear that day. The lower cost of such ads reflects the flexibility that gives us. Any political or advocacy group calling up today to request a standby ad would be quoted the same rate that paid.

That’s reasonable enough, in that it allows the paper the opportunity to try to hawk the space at the standard rate while ensuring that they have ads to fill all the alloted space. It is, however, a mite curious that MoveOn managed to get their “standby” ad in on precisely the most advantageous day for it to appear: The day the Petraeus testimony began.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think it is more interesting to look at the advocacy ads the NYT refused to run. That shows the bias a bit more clearly.

  2. Michael says:

    It is, however, a mite curious that MoveOn managed to get their “standby” ad in on precisely the most advantageous day for it to appear: The day the Petraeus testimony began.

    From the very brief explanation you quoted:

    When a group buys a standby ad, it can request a particular date for it to be run, but receives no guarantee that it can appear that day.

    So it’s not so much curious as a gamble that payed off by They buy a standby add on the day they want to run, and hope the NY Times doesn’t sell that spot to someone else. Since it was an otherwise unremarkable day, especially from a marketing perspective, it’s hardly curious that nobody else wanted that space.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    As an alternative, lets assume there was manuevering by the NYT to get the ad on said day, are thee any reasons for that besides a liberal ideology?

    Well, yeah. Imagine you’re in charge of ads for the Times. On 9/10 you can run a full page ad that is topical and is guaranteed to generate a lot of buzz, or a couple half page ads from retailers.

    You do the former obviously, because it makes business sense. It means your paper will get *a lot* of free publicity.

    So even if we assume the date is suspicious occam’s razor still cuts the tires on out outrage-mobile.

  4. legion says:

    Say, I wonder what kind of bulk discount the GOP got for all those ‘purple heart’ band-aids a few years ago. Remember all the outrage in the press about that particular insult to the military?

    Oh… right.

    It’s probably fortunate that I don’t still live on the east coast, ’cause I’d’ve kicked everyone I saw wearing one of those things square in the crotch.

  5. FireWolf says:

    Stand By Ad Pricing? What kind of bullshit is that?

    When Joe-Blow goes to place an ad do you think that advertisers say “Hey Joe, we love your money, but we’re going to offer you a lower rate if you just take the stand-by option”

    I mean, airlines sell stand by tickets for the travelers who don’t want to pay full price for a ticket, but I think this “stand-by” ad pricing is a load of crap.

    Perhaps I’m a bit misguided not having worked for an advertising firm for a LONG LONG time, but I think it’s mighty convenient to suddenly come up with this “gimmick”.

  6. Christopher says:

    I’m not sure who is the exact opposite of smart: Jams or Michael.

    “That’s reasonable enough”? “That’s reasonable enough”?!? And Tlaloc (is that Spock’s cousin?) really truly I think believes that papers like the NYT run ads for THEIR OWN PUBLICITY!!!

    The NYT is a huge paper and can fill that spot with a full priced ad in about 3 seconds. What is this standby BS? More importantly who do seemingly smart people believe it? Maybe it is political leanings, hmmmmmm……..

  7. Boyd says:

    Well, somebody’s gotta say it:

    I suspect the timing.

    [nyuk, nyuk]

  8. Michael says:

    Christopher, trolling or serious?

    Boyd, James already said it, though not as a pun.

  9. Andy says:

    Boy howdy, this whole mini “controversy” that was ginned up by the right wing blogosphere sure turned out to be stupid. The facts are always so very inconvenient.

  10. yetanotherjohn says:

    Turns out that the ad violated the times standard for not taking opinion advertisement that is a personal attack.

    From Clark Hoyt NYT public editor

    FOR nearly two weeks, The New York Times has been defending a political advertisement that critics say was an unfair shot at the American commander in Iraq.

    But I think the ad violated The Times’s own written standards, and the paper now says that the advertiser got a price break it was not entitled to.

    Did 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 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.

    How did this happen?

    Eli Pariser, the executive director of, told me that his group called The Times on the Friday before Petraeus’s appearance on Capitol Hill and asked for a rush ad in Monday’s paper. He said The Times called back and “told us there was room Monday, and it would cost $65,000.” Pariser said there was no discussion about a standby rate. “We paid this rate before, so we recognized it,” he said. Advertisers who get standby rates aren’t guaranteed what day their ad will appear, only that it will be in the paper within seven days.

    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 with the understanding that the ad would run then. She added, “That was contrary to our policies.”

    Mathis said that since the controversy began, the newspaper’s advertising staff has been told it must adhere consistently to its pricing policies.

    So everything is all right now, from here on out they will adhere to the policy they had in place and ignored before. Doesn’t that make you feel better Gen. Petraeus?