The New York Times Made Me Do It - Charlie Warner - MediaBizBlogger

Cover image for  article: The New York Times Made Me Do It - Charlie Warner - MediaBizBlogger

I wrote a blog titled "MBAs Are '…a Menace to Society.' George Bush and Katharine Weymouth Are MBAs" after I read an article in the New York Times by David Carr titled "A Publisher Stumbles Publicly at The Post". The first paragraph read: "Katharine Weymouth, the relatively new publisher of The Washington Post, is a lawyer who worked for the company for 12 years and was educated at the Harvard School of Business, so she is hardly a naïf in running a business."

I used the "fact" that Weymouth had an MBA from the Harvard Business School as a peg for an opinion piece to rail against MBAs, which I like to do from time to time.

A good friend of mine, who used to be a national correspondent for the Washington Post, e-mailed me that Weymouth had gone to law school, not the Harvard Business School. So to double check, I Googled Weymouth and clicked on the Wikipedia entry. Here's what it said: "Weymouth attended Harvard College, Oxford University, and Stanford Law School."

How ironic that the nation's journal of record, America's first draft of history, the Grey Lady, -- the New York Times -- got it wrong and that the crowd-sourced, open-source, oft-criticized Wikipedia got it right.

It took me quite a while to forgive the Times for running front page stories by Judith Miller about WMDs in Iraq and for endorsing Hillary for the February 2007, New York primary, but I eventually forgave it and went back to relying on the Grey Lady for my first morning news fix because I believed the Times website was by far the best news website on the internet. I liked the wide variety of blogs, the columnists, especially the incomparable Frank Rich, and some of the features like Blogging Heads.

But now, I can't forgive the Times. I trusted it and it not only let me down once again, but it also made me look stupid and ill informed. And I don't need any help in that realm, thank you. Bloggers and blogs are supposed to be unreliable. The cry of old-line media defenders is that we must preserve journalism and crusty journalism institutions such as the venerable Times.

How can we live in a world where Wikipedia is right and the Times is wrong? I think I just found out. We can, and very nicely, thank you.

Not only is the Times’ reporting sloppy, but also on Wednesday, July 15, its website front page was disgusting – it had an ad that showed a revolting picture of the back of a person with shingles. The Times home page used to be the default home page on my browser, so I go there six or seven times a day.

I couldn't believe that the Times took such a gross ad. Late Wednesday morning, Advertising Age MediaWorks featured a story in its daily e-mail alert titled "NYTimes Has a Blistering Rash," which read: "Ad Doesn’t Go Well With Morning Coffee. Even the Times isn't immune to the kind of online ads that give online ads a bad name."

After I read the Ad Age story, I went to the Times website and the ad was still up. I was curious what company would run such a stupid ad. It was Merck – the same wonderful company that sold us Vioxx. And the product was Zostavax, a "vaccine that can help prevent shingles in adults 60 years of age or older. You should not get ZOSTAVAX if you are allergic to any of its ingredients, including gelatin or neomycin, have a weakened immune system, take high does of steroids, or are pregnant or plan to become pregnant."

In other words, the vast majority of Times readers (people over 60 and young women) shouldn't even consider taking this new vaccine. And those who could consider the medicine were certainly repulsed by the ad and wouldn't click on it to find out what the drug was.

You'd think the Times would know better, but the message it gave website readers was, "We're so desperate for revenue, we'll take anything." Can we expect penis enlargement ads next?

And you'd think Merck would want to clean up its image after Vioxx, but the message it gave potential customers is, "Don't click on this ad; it'll gross you out more."

A study on negative advertising done at Harvard several years ago showed that negative ads don't work. The research was done on drug and alcohol abuse ads (remember the anti-drug ad showing a gun jammed up a nostril with the headline "Cocaine Kills?"). The study showed that such ads don't work because people with abuse problems are in denial and don't think it applies to them. If you want run helpful ads, they should be positive – show the benefits of wellness.

But what would you expect from those wonderful people who brought us Jonathan Blair and Judith Miller's "stories" and from the people who brought us Vioxx?

One final note about Merck. Best-selling author Jim Collins' new book, How The Mighty Fall sites Merck as a great company that fell into a death spiral. To me, Merck running the Zostavax ad confirms Collins' judgment.

And we all know that the Times has under consideration charging online readers for its content. So putting up a revolting ad while it is contemplating charging people to see such ads makes the Times business operation even dumber than I imagined.

But I guess a news organization that doesn't care enough to check the facts about a major newspaper publisher's education wouldn't care much about its readers' sensibilities either. It's sad that it's come to this, but it has.

Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at

Read all Charlie’s MediaBizBlogger commentaries at Charlie Warner - MediaBizBlogger.

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