Last week, Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein, responding to criticism after the paper ran a fake news section promoting the new King Kong ride at Universal Studios, said, “Our readers understand the ad-supported economic model of our business, which allows us to provide the outstanding journalism they rely upon 24/7.”
It appears Hartenstein overestimated the degree of their understanding.
According to the Times’ reader representative, “many readers wrote to The Times to say they were unhappy about being misled.”
“I was frightened as I started to read about Universal Studios. When I realized it was a hoax, I was furious. How could you be so irresponsible?” said Joan Richmond of Claremont.
“Your advertisement wrap on the Thursday LATExtra section was irresponsible. Trying to make an ad, especially one that discusses devastation, look like real news is horrible,” wrote Sam Giamendi of Los Angeles.
“The clever advertising hoax played with the trust your readers have developed over the years. Please don't toy with that trust again. What reader wants to be made to feel like a nincompoop because he or she believed what was on the front page of the L.A. Times?” asked Janet Weaver of Huntington Beach.
“Next time put the red ‘Advertisement’ notice at the top of the page in letters that can’t be missed, and do it on all the inside pages as well. What a lousy joke,” said Stan Greenfield of Woodland Hills.
According to the Times, Bob Niccum of Buena Park wrote, “In the original ‘King Kong’ film, a promoter sought to make his fortune by bringing a monster into the city. But he didn't foresee the damage that the monster would cause. Point made.”
Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Tribune Co. chairman Sam Zell slamming the stunt.
“The cost of this distasteful practice to the people of Los Angeles County is far greater than any short-term gains by the Tribune Company,” part of the letter reads. "Today's mock section makes a mockery of the paper's mission."