Embarrassing ad appears on MSNBC web site after terrorist attacks

Claim:   MSNBC’s web site displayed unfortunate ad placement after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Status:   Undetermined.

Origins:   When I worked in the advertising department of a newspaper many years ago, trying to keep advertisements (especially full-page ads placed by national agencies) away from antithetical editorial material was the bane of our department. No matter how carefully we laid out the day’s paper, no matter how many warnings to the newsroom and composing staff we put on the dummy sheets, it seemed like at least once a week we had a cigarette ad run directly opposite a prominent article about the latest cancer discoveries and warnings. Since we were a fairly small paper, having to run make-goods for full-page ads was a habit we could ill afford.

So, this brings us to the following screen shot, which reportedly appeared on the News section of MSNBC’s web site sometime on September 11:


Since this screen shot was sent to us by someone else, we can’t absolutely guarantee its authenticity, but it does match the format of MSNBC’s lead-in News page, right down to the positioning and size of the advertising banner. Even if it is real, MSNBC can hardly be faulted because the ad was not immediately pulled from the rotation (especially if it was served remotely) — we had enough trouble trying to prevent this type of thing in a daily newspaper under the most ordinary of circumstances; trying to keep every last detail managed in an up-to-the-minute medium in the midst of a crisis is nothing but a difficult and trying task.

Another reader forwarded us a screen shot (also of unknown provenance) which, if real, demonstrates that CNN has a bit of a problem with geography:


(The country labelled “Switzerland” is actually the Czech Republic. Switzerland itself doesn’t even appear on this map, although its northern tip is visible just below the French-German border.)

Last updated:   7 April 2008