It’s Friday and there was hefty competition between this great Taibbi piece on Zero Dark Thirty (go read it) and the general media foulness staining all of our souls this week. I’m going with the latter, but only because I think I’ve never before linked to M.S.S. :
Structurally speaking, an advertorial should provoke no shock or disgust. This website—and the suite of Gawker websites—posts sponsored articles clearly marked as sponsored. (Full disclosure: I played the Old Spice video game where Dikembe Mutumbo shot space aliens.) Many news websites you read feature them as well. There are sponsored links in your Facebook feed. If you open almost any newspaper or magazine, you will eventually find an advertisement that’s just a tweaked font style or size away from looking identical to a regular article. The New Yorker devotes pages to faux articles about its New York symposia. You know what all these are. Ads appear next to original creative content everywhere. You show up 15 minutes late for movies in the theater. You don’t click on the Youtube for AWOLNATION’s “Sail” and think, “Huh, I guess when I listened to it on the radio I missed the first 30 seconds that were about how skateboarders need Powerade.”
A Scientology advertorial provides a specific non-systemic target. It’s easier to rail at it than the ugly funding of a magazine when your magazine might have ugly funding of its own. It also provokes less hand-wringing about whether writers are themselves mouthpieces for specific lobby agendas.
Take the Atlantic. As Alex Pareene notes in his annual Hack List, the Atlantic is run by the brother of a senator and the son of a former CIA spook to produce mainstream beltway bilge for a magazine that is much less lucrative than the “Work Summit” symposia it sponsors. Here’s one such “Work Summit,” focusing on future jobs and how to train the workforce for them (i.e. how to gut and modify education). Guests included Obama’s chief school-privatization pimp Arne Duncan, as well as school reform celebrity Michelle Rhee—the subject of a recent PBS expose about how the revolutionary gains her schools made on the sorts of paid-for standardized tests sold by wealthy private companies might have been the result of cheating.
Of course, go read the whole thing.