Did they think no one would notice?
drew major flak on Monday for a piece of sponsored content touting the Church of Scientology that the venerable magazine ran on its website.
By Monday night, the magazine had removed the article from its site.
The piece is titled “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year,” referring to the church’s controversial leader. It touts Miscavige for, among other things, leading the church into “a renaissance for the religion itself, while driving worldwide programs to serve communities through Church-sponsored social and humanitarian initiatives.”
The magazine was also criticized for reportedly deleting negative comments in the comments section of the story.
In place of the story
, The Atlantic
posted language that says, “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.”
The firestorm took hold on Twitter, where the criticism ranged from thoughtful:
Not everyone thinks it’s a scourge on the face of journalism. Some think it points to a collective bias against the religion itself:
The prevailing question seems to be, “Is it ethical?” The content was clearly marked “sponsor content,” so there can be little argument that The Atlantic
is trying to pass it off as anything but. The even include this disclaimer if you hover over the “what’s this?” tab:
“Sponsor Content is created by The Atlantic’s Promotions Department in partnership with our advertisers. The Atlantic editorial team is not involved in the creation of this content.”
Still, it would appear that readers expect more from storied journalism institutions.
How much the church paid for this content is something that The Atlantic
’s advertising department knows. It’s hard for struggling media outlets—and they’re all struggling—to turn down real advertising dollars, especially in the digital space. It’s clear why The Atlantic did it.
What’s unclear is why the uproar? Is it because it’s an advertorial, which sites like BuzzFeed
have turned into their proverbial bread and butter? Or is it the subject matter?