The New York Times' ombudsman says the newspaper violated its standards when it gave the liberal activist group MoveOn.org a $77,508 price break on a full-page advertisement targeting Gen. David H. Petraeus.
The organization paid $64,575, instead of the standard $142,083, for the ad questioning the war in Iraq, public editor Clark Hoyt wrote in a column published Sunday.
Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis told Hoyt that an advertising sales representative shouldn't have agreed to the discounted price. The ad seemed to disregard internal advertising standards that ban ads involving attacks of a personal nature, Hoyt wrote.
"We made a mistake," she told Hoyt.
A message left by The Associated Press with Mathis was not returned Monday.
MoveOn.org said in a statement it would wire the difference in the ad rates to the Times on Monday.
"While we believe that the $142,083 figure is above the market rate paid by most organizations, out of an abundance of caution we have decided to pay that rate for this ad," said Eli Pariser, MoveOn's political action executive director.
Pariser added that MoveOn negotiated a price it thought was the Times' normal rate. "There is no evidence of any kind that the error in quoting of rates was in any way based on the content of the advertisement or the identity of its sponsor," Pariser said.
The full-page ad was printed in the Times' Sept. 10 editions, the day that Petraeus appeared before Congress to warn against a rapid withdrawal of military forces in Iraq. The ad's headline - "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" - questioned his honesty and said he was "constantly at war with the facts" in giving positive assessments of the war.
"The ad infuriated conservatives, dismayed many Democrats and ignited charges that the liberal Times aided its friends at MoveOn.org with a steep discount in the price paid to publish its message," Hoyt wrote.
Hoyt said he was asked to investigate the ad rate by FreedomsWatch.org, which advocates a strong national defense and a powerful fight against terrorism, because it said it wasn't offered a similar rate.
Pariser told Hoyt his group had called three days before the ad ran and asked to place it, and was told the ad would cost $65,000.
"We paid this rate before, so we recognized it," Pariser told the Times.
Freedom's Watch president Bradley A. Blakeman praised Hoyt for criticizing the paper's ad policy, and said it had paid a similar, reduced rate for an ad blasting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Monday appearance at Columbia University.
That full-page ad, headlined "Ahmadinejad is a terrorist," appeared in Monday's editions.