As journalists joust, advertisers stifle yawn

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Advertisers can be sensitive beasts when publications report on them--witness the 4-month-old boycott by General Motors Corp. against The Los Angeles Times. But the battle over protecting sources at Time and The New York Times has provoked advertisers, well, not at all.

Sure, New York Times reporter Judith Miller now sleeps in the same jail complex that holds Zacarias Moussaoui, who recently pleaded guilty in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. And Time ended its wrangling with U.S. Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald with the incredibly controversial decision to provide subpoenaed documents after the Supreme Court declined to get involved. Its reporter, Matthew Cooper, agreed to testify after a source explicitly waived a confidentiality agreement.

While many reporters heaped abuse on Time Inc. after it decided to turn over documents, and some accused The New York Times of acting above the law for encouraging Ms. Miller to keep defying her subpoena, consumer outrage is hard to detect. Advertisers seem to be viewing the incident as a passing affair, without enough staying power to justify changing ad plans already in place.

So it may be the biggest jolt to journalism this year. But it's a blip to advertisers.

T-Mobile's advertising in The New York Times included a two-page spread in the front section of the July 8 edition. The recent developments have not changed its advertising strategy, said company spokesman Peter Dobrow. "We will continue to advertise where we can maximize our investment and generate the greatest impact," he said.

Steve Lanzano, exec VP-general manager at MPG, said, "I don't believe this issue will affect advertisers one way or another."

"It has had no impact, nothing whatsoever," said Catherine J. Mathis, a Times spokeswoman. "Generally speaking, consumers are more likely to vote with cancellations of their subscriptions if they're angry about a particular topic than to affect particular advertising."

Peter Costiglio, a spokesman at Time Inc., said the issue had not come up with advertisers. "It's had no effect whatsoever."

To the degree that the public remains conflicted, or uninterested, things seem likely to stay that way.

"I don't get the sense that the public is paying attention to this case the way journalists are," said Aly Col¢n, who teaches professional journalists at the Poynter Institute. "If they are paying attention, they're probably even more confused than the journalists are about what is happening."

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