Leftovers from the New Year’s weekend: slipping in the propaganda and guess who turns to pay-for-play?

The New York Times rang in the New Year by trying to connect a few statements in a paragraph and create a greater meaning that runs counter to reality.  It was buried on the page A3 continuation of the first page story, “Boomers Hit Another Milestone of Self-Absorption: Turning 65.”

Read the following paragraph very carefully while thinking of two men, John Kerry (the war hero who came back and led opposition to the war) and Dick Cheney (who used three exemptions to avoid service while calling for others to make the supreme sacrifice):

“…the never-ending celebration of the hippie contingent of boomers tends to overshadow the Young Americans for Freedom contingent. After all, while some boomers were trying to “levitate” the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, other boomers were fighting in that war.”

Note how the YAFers morph into those who fought in the Viet Nam war, when in fact, as Mr. Cheney exemplifies, that was not always the case.  Also note how once again, anti-Viet Nam protesters are slurred by equating them completely with “hippies,” those free-spirited devotees of recreational drugs and free love in the mythology of the right.  In fact, the anti-War movement comprised a mix of types, including hippies, feminists, buttoned-down professors, pacifists, business students and business people, minorities, housewives, parents and former soldiers.

Now let’s turn to the ostensible New Year’s resolution of Parade, perhaps the most well-read periodical in North America by virtue of its insertion into the Sunday coupon page of a preponderance of Sunday newspapers. 

Parade’s New Year’s resolution: We will make more money by prostituting our magazine to advertisers.

It’s called pay-for-play and it’s when a magazine offers to run a story on a company or its products if the company buys an ad or a series of ads.  The most common and crude of the pay-for-plays has the ad facing the story, so that everyone knows that the company paid for the story.  A classier variation, one that I believe Parade followed in its January 2, 2011 edition, is to have the ad someplace else in the magazine.

The ad is a full-page color ad for the Queen Latifah collection of lipsticks by Cover Girl on the third page.  The article included the cover and a story on Queen Latifah’s advice on New Year’s resolutions that starts on page 10 and spills onto parts of five other pages.  Now I don’t know for a fact that Cover Girl paid specifically for an ad and a cover story, but judging on my 26 years of experience in public relations and advertising, I would say it’s almost a dead lock certainty that a pay-for-play agreement was arranged between the two parties.

The pay-for-play typically characterizes a lower form of journalism, certainly lower than what we traditionally expect from either Parade or a reputable daily newspaper. I’ve been reading Parade for some 50 years, and I am fairly certain that the Latifah ad-and-article represents the very first time that it has so blatantly favored an advertiser.

It symbolizes a new low for one of the most influential arbiters of mass culture in America.

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