Drug ad a bitter pill for anchor

NEW YORK — Call it the unflappable lady vs. the Gray Lady.

Former “Today” and “Dateline” personality Jane Pauley, known for her coolness under pressure, is suing the New York Times for what she contends was “deceit and duplicity” and “intentional misrepresentation.”

Lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, stems from a bizarre sequence of events in which Pauley alleges she became an unwitting spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical industry in the nation’s biggest newspaper.

Suit charges that Pauley sat for an entire interview by Sharon Johnson, a person she was led to believe was a reporter from the Times covering a story about bipolar disorder, which Pauley has admitted to having.

Pauley says she then was stunned to see her name and image used in a Times advertising supplement that contained drug-firm ads and had nothing to do with editorial content, complaint says. “In an effort to blur the line between advertising and news,” complaint says, “defendants attempted to camouflage the advertising supplement as news.”

Suit contends Johnson misrepresented herself. It also names DeWitt Publishing, the company that put together the supplement and for whom Johnson allegedly works. It claims Pauley’s image as someone who declined paid-spokesperson ads is tarnished by the ad.

Suit points up the dangers papers face as they try to get more creative in the search for dwindling ad dollars. The Times, like other papers, has turned to new media and new tactics in the search for Madison Avenue coin. Paper declined to comment.

In another strange twist, Pauley’s complaint cites as evidence the paper’s own public editor, who in a column questioned the presentation of advertorials as the Times is “scrambling ever harder to come up with attractive options for advertisers.”

But whether the Times is legally culpable for the actions of an independent company is unclear. Also murky is how a seasoned reporter like Pauley wasn’t able to suss out Johnson’s real purpose.

And it’s far from the only detail that’s hard to pin down; in fact, even the stakes are unclear. Although her suit asks for damages, lost profits and costs, Pauley’s complaint also notes that “injury is intangible in nature and not capable of being fully measured” and does not pin down a damages amount.

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