Now here's the real story. While the policy forbids personal attacks, the folks at the New York Times apparently have very clear ideas of which personal attacks are acceptable and which are not. Since Moveon.org was calling General Petraeus "General Betray Us," this type of personal attack quickly passed muster at the Times. For Mathis and the other champions of objectivity at the newspaper, the ad was regarded as not rising to the level of an "attack of a personal nature." All this is pure doublespeak, of course, but of a kind that is now characteristic of the New York Times. Once confined to the editorial page, the doublespeak has now invaded the news pages and apparently extends to the newspaper's advertising standards.
Let’s look at the content of the Moveon.org ad. The organization accused Petraeus of cooking the books and manipulating the facts to back up Bush's surge and his Iraq policy more generally. How did Petraeus rig the data? Moveon.org didn’t really say. But clearly the editors of the New York Times wanted to help Moveon.org in its goal of smearing General Petraeus, so that their own ongoing campaign against Bush's policies could be given a boost.
Now that the smear has come to light, I'm sure there are some real regrets at the Times. Yet I doubt they have to do with a lapse in judgment or a double-standard or anything like that. I suspect that the fretting at the Times is entirely over the fact that its preferential advertising rates for a left-wing organization became public knowledge. In other words, some fool at Moveon.org spilled the beans, and the Times at that point had no choice but to make the group pay the full price. All the news that's fit to print? Perhaps they should change the motto to, "All the news that fits our ideology."