Some things apparently really are priceless, even in tough economic times. Integrity is one of them, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch may have decided its integrity was worth more than a few advertising dollars.
At a newsroom staff meeting Oct. 21, according to T-D sources, reporters and editors were informed that the daily paper's Election Day issue would include a special advertisement wrapping that day's edition. The ad, paid for by the National Rifle Association, was a blistering attack against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
“It wasn't pro-[Sen. John] McCain, it was against Obama,” a newsroom source says, with another reporting the ad read “Protect Freedom, vote against Obama.”
The polybags, as the plastic bags that contain newspapers on wet days are known in industry parlance, provide advertisers with first-dibs access to newspaper readers.
The wrap, with a predominantly blue color scheme, was shown to newsroom staff during the Tuesday meeting. Staffers were told that the ad would go out with the Tuesday, Nov. 4, edition. Last week, the Times-Dispatch editorial page endorsed McCain.
The ad caused deep concerns in the newsroom as well as with some people in corporate leadership, sources say. They worried the wrap might suggest a news bias against Obama that runs counter to the longstanding separation of news, opinion and advertising that is central to maintaining public trust in any news operation.
“There were some very bitter comments from our executive editor [Glenn Proctor],” says a staffer who attended the meeting. Proctor, the source says, made clear his dismay over the ad.
Proctor did not return a call for comment.
As of Thursday afternoon, Oct. 23, whatever the ad was or had been was no more. Times-Dispatch management declines to acknowledge whether such an ad was ever planned.
“We do not discuss current or future advertisers or advertising in the newspaper,” says Frazier Millner, a spokeswoman for the paper.
Millner says the paper has a long-standing policy regarding political ads.
“We have the right to accept or reject advertising based on its merit — we have advertising guidelines to do that,” she says. “We will not run an advertising poly bag for the NRA on Election Day or any other day. No further comment.”
A spokeswoman at the NRA's national office, headquartered in Fairfax, also declines to comment on the existence of an advertising deal with the Times-Dispatch or its parent company, Media General: “I cannot confirm or deny anything about strategy from here until the end of the campaign.”