May 2nd, 2011 8:48 am | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Politics, Schools, Media

Oregonian Publisher Explains PPS Bond Ad Flap

AndersonEx-Oregonian Publisher N. Christian Anderson III - Arizona State University

Oregonian Publisher N. Christian Anderson III  squared off last week against Portlanders for Schools, the campaign group seeking passage of two bond measures on the May 17 ballot that would benefit Portland Public Schools.

Last week, Anderson, who has been publisher of the daily since November of 2009, sent an email [PDF] to Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith about a disagreement between The Oregonian and Portlanders for Schools.

The subject of the disagreement was an ad [PDF] the group submitted to The Oregonian and which Anderson ultimately vetoed. 

First, some context:

Last month The Oregonian  editorialized against PPS' $548 million capital bond, while supporting a far smaller operating levy. (WW endorsed both measures).

The ad the campaign sought to purchase  included quotes from an earlier Oregonian editorial in favor of the idea of a proposed bond to renovate schools, stating that "Portland is long overdue to reinvest in its historic school buildings.That editorial ran on Nov. 14, 2010. Last month the newspaper switched gears, urging a no vote on the capital bond.

Anderson refused to run the Portlanders for Schools ad unless the campaign was willing to include in the ad a line making clear that The Oregonian did not endorse the capital bond measure. Anderson explained his thinking in an email to Smith:

"I wanted to let you know about the circumstances surrounding The Oregonian's consideration of an advertisement that was offered to us by the Portlanders for Schools campaign organization," Anderson wrote to Smith on April 28. "Given the nature of the ad and the way it was offered, I have some reason to suspect it was done so to provoke our negative response. In the Measures 66 and 67 campaign, our objections to the proposed ads became something the campaign organizers took to other media in an effort to discredit The Oregonian. In this case, the campaign proposed to buy an ad in one of our Community News zoned editions, at a very modest price of $1,300. If the campaign were serious, it would buy full-run advertising in the spirit of the $400,000 allocated to television commercials now running on broadcast stations. At the top of the ad are quotations of an editorial we published last fall, prior to our knowing the size and timing of the specific ballot measure and the decision to ask voters to approve a larger local-option operating levy. It highlights phrases of the quotes lifted from the editorial. As it sits right below a headline describing the condition of PPS buildings as "a crisis," one could easily presume that The Oregonian has endorsed the ballot measure. Of course, anyone who has read The Oregonian recently knows otherwise. Still, we decided to accept the content of the excerpts of our editorial from last November. However, in the context of allowing the use of our trademarked logo, we asked that a small line of type be placed below that logo. We asked that it say: "The Oregonian has not endorsed the Portland School Bond." We were accused of censorship and the ad was withdrawn. I'm sorry that the campaign for the bond measure would choose to mislead voters about The Oregonian's position on the measure."

Mark Wiener, a political consultant advising Portlanders for Schools, handled communications with The Oregonian's ad department. He denies the ad was intended to embarrass The Oregonian.
Wiener say the paper's stance toward the ad his group submitted was "surprising and disappointing."

"We were very careful to be accurate and accurately portray the information that was in the Nov. 14 editorial. We were careful to not indicate that they had endorsed the measure," Wiener says. "When The O demanded that we alter the ad to include the info that would be hurtful to our advocacy for the bond measure, we declined to do so."

Wiener says in more than 20 years of placing political ads with various outlets, he does not remember another instance of a publisher insisting on a change in copy.

"I cannot recall ever having a newspaper, The O or other, rejecting an ad because of the ad's content," Wiener says. "It's particularly surprising because that content was accurate."

Anderson declined to answer written questions WW posed to him about the flap, other than to say, "We felt that if the bond measure proponents were to use excerpts from a November editorial with The Oregonian's logo—all of which we did not object to—we wanted it to be clear that we had not endorsed the bond measure," Anderson wrote in an email.  "As you are aware, our editorial on the specific ballot measures noted that we recognize the need for repairs to school buildings—just as we said in November—but oppose the bond measure for its size and timing. It invited PPS to return with a smaller bond measure at a later date."
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