Breaking News


AdAge reports (reg. required) that energy company BP has joined Morgan Stanley in adopting an explicit policy of pulling ads from issues of magazines in which there's unfavorable coverage of the company.

On the one hand, there's certainly a non-nefarious (potential) rationale for this: If the value of an ad is going to be nullified by a piece slagging the company on the opposite page, that's just a bad use of one's advertising budget. Halliburton doesn't take out a lot of ads in The Nation, for good reason. On the other hand, there's obvious and very worrying potential for that sort of thing to influence coverage in an untoward way.

The two solutions, I think, are more information and less. Less, in that the wall of separation between ad and editorial departments needs to be more scrupulously maintained than ever. You can go over to MediaTransparency and find a (partial?) list of Reason Foundation donors. I purposely never look at that list, because I never want to find myself wondering, even for an instant, whether something I write might annoy a funder. More, in that publications should prominently and regularly disclose whether they're party ton such contingent advertising contracts so that readers can take what they read with the appropriate numbers of grains of salt. There needs to be a feedback-loop between professional ethics and an alert readership that will punish uncritically fawning coverage as much as advertisers will reward it, so that doing right and doing well are, if not in perfect harmony, at least not at loggerheads.