The New York Times’ ombudsman said in a Sunday column that his newspaper had improperly given MoveOn.org a 50-percent discount for a full-page ad questioning the credibility of Gen. David Petraeus, the top American military commander in Iraq. A MoveOn represetative said the online liberal activist group would cough up the full price “out of abundance of caution.” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the Times, declined to say who was responsible for the decision to offer the discount, or whether any disciplinary action was planned.
“The old gray lady has some explaining to do,” said the New York Daily News. The MoveOn ad was a political hit job, and Times policy prohibits ads that make personal attacks. It suggested that Petraeus might be aptly called “General Betray Us” and ran on the day he made a highly anticipated report to Congress. The Times charged MoveOn $64,575 instead of the standard $142,083, essentially putting itself in league with the group’s attack.
This was a case of “incompetence” at best, said Andrew Sullivan on his bog, The Daily Dish. “At worst,” it was “bias.” Either way, if the Times wants to repair the damage to its reputation, “it needs to fire someone.” The MoveOn ad was meaningless in the debate over “future strategy” in Iraq. “I'm a skeptic of the surge and worried about the use of Petraeus for political purposes,” but “the ad still repelled me.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the ad, which President Bush called "disgusting.” The ad accused Petraeus of "cooking the books" to show that violence had decreased since the "surge" in U.S. troops earlier this year, and to defend the plan to withdraw U.S. forces slowly.
It was striking how “pointedly, fluently, and effectively” Bush positioned Republicans to “make hay on this issue,” said The New York Sun in an editorial.
Bush struck at the Democrats’ “key vulnerability,” said William Kristol in The Daily Standard, by shaming them for their “silence” after the attack on Petraeus.
Bush's attack on Democrats over the MoveOn ad was a cheap shot, said John Nichols on TheNation.com, and “one of the most remarkable—and politically petty—moments of a remarkable and politically-petty presidency.”
It’s shocking that the Republicans—the daddy party, the tough guys—can be made to whimper so at the sight of a harmless newspaper ad, said Michael Kinsley in Time.
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