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CBS's BNet Editorial: "Why The FTC Should Sue Harper's Bazaar"

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Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

On Wednesday, Racked published a document a tipster found on the desktop of a public lobby computer in a major hotel in Los Angeles. In addition to a variety of call sheets, there was a priority-ranked list of brands the magazine deemed acceptable to use on a shoot. Preference on the list was doled out in order of how much each advertiser spent. Since the publication of that post, the magazine in question has been revealed to be Harper's Bazaar.

CBS's BNet columnist Jim Edwards—a former managing editor of Adweek—says that the Federal Trade Commission should sue Harper's Bazaar for non-disclosure—in the same way the FTC has gone after bloggers and PR firms:

If the FTC sued Harper’s Bazaar magazine for not disclosing that its advertisers influence its editorial features it would do readers of women’s magazines—and the fashion business in general—a huge favor. All it would take is set of consent decrees between the feds, Conde Nast, Hearst and their advertisers to clean up Dodge City. It would force both publishers and apparel houses to be honest with their readers again.
Over the past couple of years, the FTC has begun to enforce a set of guidelines that dictates the transparency of relationships between advertising and editorial—specifically pay-for-play in the case of endorsements.

The FTC rules state:

Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers [see § 255.5]. Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.
That's why bloggers have to, by law, declare when they review or endorse items that are received for free (and retailers are responsible for reminding us/them) and why a public relations firm recently came under fire from the FTC after reviewing their own clients' products.

These rules have seemingly never been enforced in the women's magazine or print world—Edwards makes the point that: "Of course, readers of women’s magazines know that most of the editorial is either made up or bought-and-paid for by advertisers, so it’s tough to argue that consumers are “damaged” by them." And nearly all of the commentators on our original post pretty much said, "Well, duh." But we do imagine that there are a great number of people who consume media without the knowledge that product placements are bought-and-paid for. What about them?

From our experiences over a nearly-decade-long print career, it's clear that no real rules are enforced as far as freebies or pay-for-play are concerned—not at newspapers (even ones with "strict" gifting regulations), weekly, or monthlies. Why is it that print is exempted from the FTC regulations?
· Why the FTC should sue Harper's Bazaar [BNet]
· Exclusive: Top fashion magazine's label list, in priority order [Racked]
· The hierarchy: who stays where on location at a fashion shoot [Racked]
· How the FTCs new blogging rules have legalized advertiser bribery [BNet]
· How the FTC may curb free speech rights for PR agency employees [BNet]