Controversial Metro ad costs agency

|
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

A recent spate of ads will be costing Metro rather than serving as a moneymaker for the transit agency.

Metro is paying $35,000 as a settlement of legal fees to a group that won a federal court battle over posting four ads in the system, as first reported by the Legal Times. But the cost of the settlement may be offset somewhat when fees brought in by the ads and the subsequent counter-ads are taken into account, leaving Metro potentially short by less than $20,000.

Metro is on the hook for the legal fees because it tried to delay posting four ads from Pamela Geller and her organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, in September that read: "In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." The transit agency had argued that the controversial language could endanger Metro and its riders amid riots overseas, but a federal court ruled that the agency had to carry out the $5,600 ad campaign by Oct. 8.

However, those ads spawned at least three sets of counter-ads from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Shoulder to Shoulder coalition of faith groups. They told The Washington Examiner they each paid between $4,500 and $6,500, bringing the total of the ad frenzy to $22,000.

Then the CAIR ads spurred AFDI to take out an additional round of ads. Geller's attorneys declined to comment on how much they paid for the subsequent ads.

Metro declined to comment on the exact amount the five sets of ads brought in, but the fees may have totaled about $27,500.

At least some of that money goes to CBS Outdoor, which handles Metro's advertising contract. The company guarantees $8 million per year to Metro in ad revenue or 55 percent of net billings, whichever is greater. So Metro could have earned some $15,000 from the ads.

Metro has benefited from similar ad wars in the past, including a 2008 war about atheists. But this latest ad war may be slowing down now, leaving a net loss. CAIR said it plans to run more ads in Metro, but unrelated to the recent campaigns. "We're not going to jump every time she publishes some hate," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

The final tally represents a small part of Metro's overall $2.5 billion budget for this year. But every advertising dollar brought in offsets the money needed from riders' fares and taxpayer subsidies. And advertising revenues have been dwindling in recent years, with just $15.5 million expected this fiscal year, a 15 percent decline from last year and a 63 percent drop from the $42.1 million raised in 2010.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment