Assessing the Petraeus Attack Ad

September 24, 2007 04:41 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Senate votes to denounce for its ad disparaging General Petraeus’s assessment of the U.S. troop “surge”; The New York Times concedes it made a mistake in publishing the advertisement.

30-Second Summary

The Senate resolution admonishing the anti-war organization passed 72 votes to 25, on Sept. 21.

Appearing on Sept. 10 to coincide with Petraeus’s first day at a congressional hearing into the U.S. troop “surge” in Iraq, the advertisement made a number of claims that cast doubt on the standards the Pentagon uses to measure violence in Iraq.

But the banner under which those statements were made proved to be more provocative than the accusations of bias and inaccuracy. “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” declared the headline.  

One effect of the ad was that coverage of the hearing was increasingly drawn away from Petraeus’s report and his methodology to issues of slander and personal integrity.

The story developed further when it became known that received a substantial discount on the advertised price of $181,692 for a full-page ad. At first the New York Times Company said that the $65,000 paid was the normal standby rate. However, on Sept. 23, Public Editor Clark Hoyt stated that the Times had broken its own rules on two counts

Hoyt wrote that the standby rate shouldn’t have been awarded to an ad timed to appear on a specific date. He added that according to the Times’s advertising acceptability manual, “We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.”
As a result of the controversy, Democrats such as Sen. John Kerry (D–Mass.) have distanced themselves from With The New York Times having issued an apology, would appear to be increasingly isolated.

However, Matt Bai argues in the Times that the “stellar publicity” the grass-roots organization has won can only do it good. “Everybody wins in ideological skirmishes like these,” he writes, as Republicans and have solidified their base support.

Headline Links: The ad, its aftermath, and assessment

Reference Material: The ad,, and the Iraq reports and Political Financing

Most of’s revenue is spent in the form of “soft money,” a term that refers to funds used to campaign on issues without directly supporting or opposing any particular politician. The New York Times ad is an example of a political action paid for with soft money.

Funds used to directly support or attack a politician are referred to as “hard money.”

Reactions: John Kerry, the rate card, Giuliani, and the president's address

Reactions to the Ad
President Bush's address to the nation

Opinion: The MoveOn ad and the congressional hearings

Opinions on and its Attack Ad
Approval for Petraeus's Testimony
Skepticism for Petraeus's Testimony

Analysis: Assessing Petraeus's report and the ad


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