January 15, 2013

Someone at the offices of The Atlantic has studied crisis management. Approximately 12 hours after it took down an online advertorial presentation for the Church of Scientology in response to a social media outcry, the publication has issued an apology. An apology, that is, with a clear admission of a mistake and a pledge to clean things up:

We screwed up. 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. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.

Like all other corporate apologies, of course, this one doesn’t cover all the relevant bases. Here, the missing chunk is just precisely the mistake for which The Atlantic is apologizing. Was the screw-up in the accepting of an advertorial from Scientology? Was it in the presentation? Was it in the handling of the comments? What? That’s a line of inquiry worthy of further pursuit.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.