The Nation accepts pretty much every advertisement that comes its way. This open-door (open-hand?) policy has its downside. We get tsoris from readers–for example, a flurry of outraged letters in 2006 over an ad from FLAME, a Zionist group with strong views about Middle Eastern demography. We live with occasional humiliation–two issues in 2004 carried a garish full-color ad from Fox News, which was a bit like having Rupert Murdoch wipe his shoes on your behind. When I was an editor, the ad policy gave me fits. But as Victor Navasky in his wisdom discerned, it has one great advantage: it makes life simple. You don’t have to explain why you rejected this ad last week when you accepted that one three years ago, you don’t get embroiled in ideological flash fires over words you didn’t write, and you don’t get enmeshed in other people’s agendas.
If only Ms. magazine had followed the Navasky rule, it wouldn’t be in such a pickle now, trying to explain why it rejected an ad from the American Jewish Congress that featured headshots of three highly placed women in the Israeli government–Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik–above the words “This is Israel.” Was it because it was “too controversial” and would have “set off a firestorm” among readers, as the AJCongress’s Harriet Kurlander says she was told at the end of a long foot-dragging process? Or was it because, as executive editor Katherine Spillar writes on the magazine’s website, “Ms. policy is to accept only mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence”? In fact, that is a fair description of the kind of ads Ms. runs, but unfortunately, Spillar didn’t stop there: “Not only could the ad be seen as favoring certain political parties within Israel over other parties, but also with its slogan ‘This is Israel,’ the ad implied that women in Israel hold equal positions of power with men.” I read the ad as simply implying that there are some pretty powerful women in Israel, which is true. But if you have to explain your decisions on your website, you’re already in trouble. Because that invites the rejected advertiser to critique your editorial content going back to the year dot; why, Kurlander wanted to know, did Ms. reject the AJCongress ad but run a friendly profile of Queen Noor of Jordan in 2003? Her implication is that Ms. has an anti-Israel, pro-Muslim tilt.
I spent an evening with the past three years of Ms., and, Queen Noor notwithstanding, its coverage of Israel seemed if anything more positive than its coverage of Muslim and/or Arab lands. But don’t take it from me; take it from Clare Kinberg, managing editor of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal. “After looking through years of issues of Ms.,” she wrote in a letter to the Jewish Daily Forward, “I came away really furious, not with Ms., but with the American Jewish Congress for their scurrilous attack on the magazine.” Indeed, the just-published winter issue contains a flattering profile of Livni, one of the women in the AJCongress ad. (The genial Richard Gordon, president of the AJCongress, is not the only person who suspects it was damage control, but even if so, Ms. printed it.)