UPDATE, noon, Tuesday: The Atlantic just posted a statement on its site, admitting to making “mistakes” in running the advertorial: “We screwed up.”

Who would have expected the normally smart, sober Atlantic to set off such a firestorm, but that’s what happened late yesterday after the venerable magazine on its popular web site posted a lengthy, gushing, advertorial from…the Church of Scientology.

Was it only coincidence that this appeared on publication day for the much-awaited and very critical book, Going Clear, on the church by Pulitzer-winning Lawrence Wright? In any event, it lit up the Internet (as the saying goes), provoking outrage, protests, nasty comments on the magazine’s site and the inevitable fake Twitter feed that had folks chuckling. Salon.com declared that the advertorial “reads like North Korean propaganda.”

Yes, “sponsored” content is nothing new, but this came from a particularly controversial, even evil (in the eyes of some) source. Even apart from the content, I quickly pointed out that unlike most such sections—say, in print newspapers or magazines—this material appeared under a big The Atlantlic logo on a page that looked little different than other feature spreads on the site. And the “sponsored content” label was quite small at the top, even if smeared with yellow.

In a note, the site explained that the content was “created by The Atlantic’s Promotions Department in partnership with our advertisers” and that “The Atlantic editorial team is not involved in [its] creation.”

Finally, after a few hours, the editors removed the content, replacing it with this notice: “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.” Here’s a cached version of the original.

We’ll update this as story develops. For now, here’s a fun Boing Boing parody. That’s their mock-illustration at above left. Erik Wemple has a blow-by-blow, although too much from the magazine (revenue-generating) perspective.

Greg Mitchell last wrote about the media war between Paul Krugman and Jon Stewart over the idea of creating a trillion dollar coin.