The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Problem With ‘Sponsored Content’: Atlantic Unpublishes Scientology Article

Posted on | January 15, 2013 | 24 Comments

How do you turn pixels into profits? This is an industry-wide issue for journalism in the digital New Media age, and the “sponsored content” approach — selling ads that look like articles — is supposed to be the wave of the future. Well . . .

The Atlantic apparently sold space to the Church Creepy Ripoff Brainwashing Cult of Scientology for an “advertorial” with this headline:

David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year

To say the very least, the article attracted unflattering attention:

The Atlantic — the one time publisher of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton — is now publishing blatant Scientology propaganda. The “sponsored content,” which went up Monday around noon, features all sorts of breathless praise for Scientology and its alleged growth last year.
The post is basically one long tribute to David Miscavige, the “ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion” . . .

Given the high-toned image and upscale readership of the Atlantic, this invitation to public ridicule was an embarrassment to the staff:

Twitchy collected the ROTFLMAO reaction from Twitter, and MediaGazer aggregated the firestorm of journalistic shame, which predictably ended with the de-publication of the non-article:

The Atlantic has U-turned on its controversial paid-for feature article from the Church of Scientology. The publication had sparked a debate on media ethics and business models after allowing the advertorial from the religious group to appear on its site but — as of 21:00, UTC-8 — the page now redirects to one with the following message: “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.”

Of course, this is just an occasion to laugh at the snobbish hypocrisy of the Atlantic, another elite-oriented neoliberal institution caught in the economic crunch that has affected so many other Legacy Media outposts. Paying for actual journalism in a post-literate age is an increasing challenge for every outfit not attached to an entertainment conglomerate that can afford to subsidize the written word as a “loss leader.”

For my own Shameless Capitalist self, I say shop our Amazon specials and remember the Five Most Important Words in the English Language:

A Feasible Alternative to Scientology Ads, So Far


UPDATE: Ed Driscoll offers a dish best served cold:

As I said, “Old Media Belatedly Discovers That Elections Have Consequences”‘ the moribund Obamaconomy is impacting the Atlantic as well.

The widespread belief among journalists that they can safely ignore market forces is crumbling under the weight of contradictory evidence. Jeff Bercovici of Forbes notes that it took less than 12 hours for the Atlantic to pull the ad, and issue an embarrassed statement:

We screwed up. It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.

Maybe the Atlantic can sell out to the Qatari oil sheikhs . . .



24 Responses to “The Problem With ‘Sponsored Content’: Atlantic Unpublishes Scientology Article”

  1. instapundit
    January 15th, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    RT @smitty_one_each: TOM The Problem With ‘Sponsored Content’: <em>Atlantic</em> Unpublishes Scientology Article

  2. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    January 15th, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    Wow. Didn’t the Atlantic get the memo that even Hollyweird is greenlighting going after Scientology. The Master would even raise doubts to Tom Cruise.

  3. Steve Skubinna
    January 15th, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    This has actually been going on for a while. Or at least, news organizations have been printing press releases from government, corporate, non-profit and NGO PR types, especially those that align with their worldview. At least they’ve decided to turn it into a revenue stream.

    And I actually prefer the latter approach – it’s much more honest.

  4. Ed Driscoll » It’s Come to This
    January 15th, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

    […] not simply “sell out to the Qatari oil sheikhs,” Stacy McCain asks. It’s the environmentalist-approved way to go green! […]

  5. Bob Belvedere
    January 15th, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

    Some magizines and newspapers so this right. They repeat the phrase ‘Paid Advertisement’ at the top and bottom of the pages and some even make the type smaller [which saves money for the advertiser] and/or use different fonts.

  6. jety
    January 15th, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

    Scientology propaganda, progressive propaganda, what’s the difference?

  7. K-Bob
    January 15th, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

    The only things that held The Atlantic together were the articles by Hitchens. City Journal is where I go for my high-word-count journalism, now.

    And Ace’s movie reviews. They’re pretty long, too. Better than watching the movie, really.

  8. K-Bob
    January 15th, 2013 @ 8:36 pm


  9. K-Bob
    January 15th, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

    You mean Elrond Hubbard?

  10. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    January 15th, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    All I have to say is the end of The Master makes it clear what that film is all about.

  11. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    January 15th, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

    I have no problem with that.

    I also figured out pretty quickly (about instaneously) that Rush and Beck promoting Freedom Works involved more than mutual admiration for that organization.

  12. Wombat_socho
    January 15th, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

    Megan McArdle was worth reading, but she decamped to the DailyNewsBeast.

  13. Wombat_socho
    January 15th, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

    The Co$ has fewer scruples.

  14. K-Bob
    January 15th, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

    Thanks, I’ll see what that’s about!

  15. K-Bob
    January 16th, 2013 @ 2:14 am

    Yeah, I guess I was being over emphatic. Even the New Yorker has some great stuff in it once in a while. I you can stand dealing with the rest of it.

  16. Bob Belvedere
    January 16th, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    Like the new avatar, KB.

  17. Bob Belvedere
    January 16th, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    Are you sure about that, oh glorious Wombaticus?

  18. “The Atlantic” Sells Out to Scientology « Literate Comments
    January 16th, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    […] Robert Stacy McCain: “Of course, this is just an occasion to laugh at the snobbish hypocrisy of the Atlantic, another elite-oriented neoliberal institution caught in the economic crunch that has affected so many other Legacy Media outposts. Paying for actual journalism in a post-literate age is an increasing challenge for every outfit not attached to an entertainment conglomerate that can afford to subsidize the written word as a “loss leader. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  19. K-Bob
    January 16th, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    Thanks! It was inspired by this story I read at FR

  20. ‘Streisand Effect’: Scientology Imploding? : The Other McCain
    January 16th, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    […] “Streisand Effect” may now be invoked in the wake of Monday’s debacle in which The Atlantic published a ludicrously over-the-top “advertorial” for Scientology and was forced to remove it and apologize after reader complaints. (More at MediaGazer.)It was […]

  21. Scientology ‘Advertorial’ Scandal Exposes Atlantic Executive as Truthless Swine : The Other McCain
    January 19th, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    […] of anything purporting to be “journalism.”Monday, The Atlantic embarrassed itself by publishing a glowing “sponsored content” article that heaped praise on the leadership of…. This ludicrous “advertorial” got yanked within 12 hours, after exposing the […]

  22. Scientology Continues Its Unwelcome Encounter With the ‘Streisand Effect’ : The Other McCain
    January 21st, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    […] No CommentsA week ago, the secretive Scientology cult accidentally invited closer media scrutiny by paying The Atlantic to publish a “sponsored content” article so over the top that it generated a massive backlash. It wasn’t difficult for journalists to figure out why […]

  23. The American Spectator : The Spectacle Blog : Forbes Goes Left: Tax Attack on Mickelson Proves O’Sullivan’s First Law
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 8:19 am

    […] defended the concept of “sponsored content” in the wake of last week’s debacle in which the Atlantic published an “advertorial” for Scientology.) Dvorkin’s July 2010 deal also brought under the Forbes online umbrella several of […]

  24. How to Avoid Journalistic Hindenburgs : The Other McCain
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    […] the most eminent survivor of the Culture11 catastrophe was Conor Friedersdorf, now employed at a Scientology-funded magazine called The Atlantic, bashing Rush Limbaugh and arguing for legalized marijuana.Joe Carter, […]