Comments: YES WE CAN TURN AWAY YOUR AD

The WaPo is not a government paper. It doesn't have to be "fair." This is not "censorship," contrary to one of the commenters. The WaPo can print whatever it wants, including prOpaganda. So I agree with the first comment:

About time WAPO concedes that they abandoned objectivity!

I don't expect any, because no media source can possibly be "fair" to all of us, or represent a consensus whenever none exists.

The "congratulatory" requirement may also imply that the WaPo is aware of a very vocal opposition. If anti-Obama sentiment were not as strong, they wouldn't need to include the requirement, as they'd only get a few negative ad submissions and even fewer people complaining that their ads weren't included. But such sentiments are intense, and excluding the requirement would result in a flood of negative ad submissions and protests. The potential additional revenue would not make up for the bad publicity.

Posted by Amritas at December 18, 2008 12:20 PM

I agree with Artitas that this is not "censorship"; however, the WP is owned by a public corporation which has fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders, and to the degree that the paper's commercial decisions are motivated by the personal political opinions of its officers and employees, I think legitimate questions can be reaised about whether it is fulfilling those responsibilities.

Posted by david foster at December 18, 2008 03:17 PM

Good points, David. But how many conservatives own shares of The Washington Post Company? If the shareholders are predominantly liberal, isn't the WP "fulfilling [its] responsibilities"?

I'm not that upset by the WP's decision because I doubt that ads for Obama will make many new cOnverts. I'd be more concerned about front page reality distortion posing as "news."

Posted by Amritas at December 18, 2008 04:00 PM

Amritas...remember, the company is chartered "for purposes of pecuniary gain and profit" or similar language. Thought experiment: suppose that a public corporation decided to give 50% of its net income to the CEO's favorite charity...and suppose the majority of shareholders agreed. I suspect that the minority shareholders would still have a case for violation of fiduciary responsibility.

I don't think this WP action rises to that level; indeed, it's probably reasonable, given that the ad section is for "congratulations," to ensure that the ads placed are really congratulatory. But I think much media-company behavior in recent years does raise the question of whether it is motivated by proper concern for shareholder financial interests.

Any securities lawyers out there who would like to comment on this?

Posted by david foster at December 18, 2008 05:09 PM