UPDATE: In reaction to our blog post we received a statement from Time regarding the allegations from Narcos News on the cover featuring Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Prepare yourself:
STATEMENT FROM TIME:
TIME does not accept payment in exchange for editorial coverage under any circumstances. Rates listed on TIME's public media kit refer to the cost of advertising with TIME and have nothing to do with editorial content.
A Spanish-language version of TIME's cover story is now available here: http://ti.me/1jC66z8
The Time magazine cover on Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has caused a Twitter shit storm easy to follow with the hash tag #SavingMexico. Mexican activists and others must be giving the news magazine a fine headache and the resulting parodies created are rich—the president holding a scythe and the words Saving Mexico replaced with Slaying Mexico is my favorite, but Moses, Lady of Guadalupe and Alfred E. Neuman lovely.
Think Mexican has the parodies posted on their tumblr page right here.
Watching Time react is sad, however, the only one to get to the heart of what's wrong with the cover is Narco News' Bill Conroy, whose latest report alleges the cover was essentially paid for—the extension of a public relations and advertising campaign that leeched into editorial content. You can and should read the entire piece right here.
Unfortunately, many revenue-strapped commercial media outlets today, among them the giants of the business, are now crossing all too frequently the time-honored line that used to separate advertising from editorial integrity.
And in the case of the Peña Nieto cover story, it does appear TIME tripped over that line as well — maybe because the once-venerable magazine company later this year is about to be spun off from its parent company, Time Warner, and forced to survive on its own accord, without the benefit of being propped up by its parent company’s huge revenue stream.
In TIME’s Dec. 23 issue — the edition featuring Pope Francis as “Person of the Year” — the magazine also featured a 14-page “sponsored-content” section (an advertorial) that promoted Mexico as a tourism destination and also hyped the reforms being pursued by the Peña Nieto administration, billing his plan as a smart agenda for attracting foreign investment.
The advertorial includes several promotional stories paid for by government and corporate advertising sponsors, as well as a number of high-impact ads, all under an opening headline: “‘Mexico’s Moment’ Set to Last: Against a backdrop of comprehensive economic reforms, Mexico’s reputation as a secure destination for investors is boosted by a record performance of foreign direct investment (FDI).”
Atop each page of this advertorial are the words: “Special Advertising Section.”
The narrative of this advertorial section is remarkably similar to the story line of the TIME news story penned by Crowley and published less than two months later — officially in TIME’s Feb. 24 issue, though the story appeared online more than week prior to that date. [See sidebar.]
It is not clear how much the multiple Mexican public- and private-sector sponsors of this “special advertising section” paid for the content and its placement in a national publication like TIME, but it’s certain the cost was not cheap. National magazine advertising can cost as much as $25,000 per page or more — putting the cost of a 14-page section at $350,000 or more.
A story now making news in Mexico, based on documents obtained from a Mexican government agency, indicates that Peña Nieto’s government paid Time Warner — the owner of TIME magazine — a total of 576,000 pesos (about $44,000) between January and October of last year for “publicity” (advertising). That might have covered the Mexican government’s portion of the costs for the multi-sponsor 14-page advertorial, though the Mexican government documents do not offer specifics.
Regardless, the fact that TIME was willing to publish a major cover story touting Peña Nieto as “Saving Mexico” — after only two months early publishing a 14-page advertorial that does essentially the same thing — raises some serious questions about who is really calling the editorial shots, ultimately, at the magazine. Is it the editors or the business department?
In any event, it should be no surprise to TIME’s editors that the public reaction to the magazine’s Peña Nieto “news” story in Mexico has been so overwhelmingly negative, given that the perception has been created that the story was part of a pay-to-play deal.
To make matters worse, Peña Nieto’s administration, via the Mexico Tourism Board (or Consejo de Promocion Turistico de Mexico, CPTM) has hired a US public relations firm to further tout the Mexican president’s reform agenda as well as Mexico as a tourist destination. That US PR firm is CLS Strategies (CLS) — formerly known as Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates.
This is not the first time the Peña Nieto administration has hired CLS Strategies as its trumpeter.
Following his election in July 2012 until the end of that year, Peña Nieto employed the services of the Washington, D.C.-based communications and marketing firm to help him spread positive propaganda during the transition period prior to his official swearing-in as the president of Mexico on Dec. 1 of 2012.
CLS is the same US image-building firm that was retained in the fall of 2009 by the Honduran regime led by “de facto” President Roberto Micheletti in the wake of its coup d'état in that Central American nation. CLS’s Foreign Agents Registration Act filingwith the Department of Justice described its mission in Honduras as promoting Honduran President Roberto Micheletti’s dictatorship as a democracy “through the use of media outreach, policy maker contacts and events, and publicdissemination of information….”
The current contract between Peña Nieto’s administration and CLS, inked this past December, is outlined in documents filed on Dec. 24, 2013, in the US under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
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