Some newspaper subscribers in Montana will find their Election Day papers wrapped in a political advertisement.
The National Rifle Association said Monday it is buying plastic bag “wrap” advertising in seven or eight Montana newspapers to show support for Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, who is in a tight race for re-election. Only some of those newspapers will be wrapped in the advertising on Election Day and others will be delivered earlier with the ad wrapping, said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
The campaign of Democratic challenger Jon Tester said sending newspapers out in a bag emblazoned with pro-Burns language on Election Day could confuse readers.
“It runs the risk of an implied endorsement from the newspaper,” said Tester spokesman Matt McKenna.
Arulanandam said that wasn’t “valid criticism,” and that those bothered probably are jealous, regretting that they did not come up with the idea.
Publishers and a newspaper industry spokesman said the ads are no different than political ads that campaigns pay to place in the pages of newspapers.
Mike Gulledge, publisher at The Billings Gazette, said his paper has a policy against disclosing advertising purchases.
“I really can’t comment on what customers are buying,” he said.
Arulanandam said the NRA expects to reach 120,000 to 150,000 households in Montana. He refused to say which papers will use the ad wrap on Election Day and which will use it earlier.
One newspaper that will not have the wrap on Election Day is the Great Falls Tribune, which bans such advertising on the day voters head to the polls.
“We think that our readers would find that over the top,” said Tribune Publisher Jim Strauss.
He added that the newspaper did agree to run the advertisement prior to Election Day, but “readers are a little bit particular on Election Day.”
Rick Weaver, publisher of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, said Monday that wrap advertising for Election Day has not been made final at his paper. The Chronicle also has a policy against disclosing advertisers’ plans.
“We wouldn’t tell Penney’s what Macy’s is going to do,” Weaver said. “Because, frankly, it is none of their business.”
The NRA isn’t alone with such an ad buy.
Tom Kurdy, publisher of the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will buy the plastic bag advertising this week. The National Rifle Association will buy the bag advertising Tuesday from the Inter Lake, Kurdy said.
He said any advertiser can pay for the special wrap advertising, or “poly bag” ads, and political campaigns are no different.
“I don’t see that as an issue at all,” Kurdy said.
Kurdy said he does not believe readers will confuse the advertising as an editorial endorsement of Burns.
The Chamber of Commerce advertising wrap was arranged through the Montana Newspaper Association and clearly says it was paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said John Barrows, executive director of the association.
He said that while such advertising is unusual in Montana, it is not unheard of elsewhere. In fact, Barrows said, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce purchased similar wrap ads for political candidates in a dozen states.
The NRA wrap advertising was placed with individual newspapers, Barrows said, not through the association.
Kelly McBride, an ethics trainer for journalists at the Poynter Institute, said newspapers that sell the plastic wrap advertising usually have no grounds to refuse to sell it to political campaigns.
But she said it is a good idea for the news departments of those papers to tell readers about the advertising, so they understand it has been purchased and is not the newspaper’s endorsement of a candidate.
“I think it is up to the newsroom to tell the story so the audience is savvy as to what is going on,” McBride said.