The online advertising team at The Atlantic made the now-controversial choice to run an advertorial for the Church of Scientology, a paid advertisement that appeared to be a news article written for the site and later forced a journalistic apology once it was flagged from outside the website.
The advertorial appeared on Monday around noon, when website traffic peaks. The post detailed the continued expansion of the church with a very positive spin in favor of the organization.
Aside from a small "sponsor content" label at the top of the post, it was hard to tell that the advertorial titled “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year" wasn't written by someone on staff.
By midnight, The Atlantic had removed it from the website. Many journalists and media commentators noticed, taking particular issue with how innocuous it appeared next to editorial content.
On Tuesday the Atlantic issued three words of apology for the debacle, according to Brian Stelter at the New York Times
: "We screwed up."
The Atlantic issued a statement: “It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way."
Another aspect of the controversy that angered some was that comments on the article were moderated by the publication's marketing team, instead of the editorial team that usually moderates comments on the website. Comments critical of the Church of Scientology were swiftly removed.
Media analysts say the move from the church is a smart one, coming just before a book-length expose by Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief,” will be available. The book comes out on Thursday, the same date an interview with Paul Haggis will air on NBC. Haggis is described as "the most famous Scientologist to leave Scientology and speak out against it."
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