The "General betray us" ad violated NYT's corporate policy.
The ad salesman promised a Sept. 10 print date when MoveOn paid the "standby" rate and shouldn't have been promised any specific date. Not at that price, anyway; a "guaranteed run date" ad costs at least 2x as much and MoveOn got a discount of around $117,000 for its ad, paying only something like $65,000.
The language was "rough" but acceptable.
But the paper erred on the side of "free speech".
In other words, NYT did something unethical and possibly in violation of federal election laws, but it's okay because it "...err[ed] on the side of more political dialogue."
So I'm wondering: how on earth does an ad salesman end up dictating when and where corporate policy is ignored? I mean, that's a pretty sweet fricking job, if you ask me: he can sell full-page ads at 60% off list price and he doesn't have to pay attention to corporate policy when he makes promises.
The truth is, everyone responsible wanted that ad to run, and they wanted it to run on Sept 10 when General Petraeus was before Congress. Now they are simply passing the buck and doing their best to avoid the consequences.
In fact, I would argue that the editorial itself is a put-on: "See, we're being self-critical of our mistake!" NYT got caught with its hand in the cookie jar and is now trying to cover its ass. They gave a major discount to an organization they support; they didn't expect this to come out, and they sure didn't expect it to become as big a story as it has become.
The telling point would be whether or not that salesman keeps his job. Most places, a salesman who did something like that would probably be fired. Not only did he violate corporate policy; he basically cost the paper $117,000. But he won't be fired. Not unless the public outcry really gets bad and NYT finds itself needing a sacrificial lamb. ("Bad" meaning the Federal Election Commission decides to prosecute.)
But, more likely, nothing will happen. NYT higher-ups will privately grumble about the "sheeple" trying to act intelligent instead of shutting up and being good little consumers, and the whole mess will get swept under a rug.
And next time they'll just be a lot more careful about how they give MoveOn their "friends and family" discount.