DIRTY BOMB: On Friday morning, Hearst Magazines president Cathleen Black entertained guests including Gov. George Pataki and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a topping-out ceremony for the new Hearst tower. The proceedings betrayed no sign of the controversy Black and Hearst face as a result of ads that, due to a typo, unintentionally direct readers to a pornographic Web site. 

The ads, for prom dressmaker Studio 17, appeared in Teen Prom, a newsstand-only publication, as well as in YM Your Prom, which is published by Fairchild Publications (parent of WWD). While Fairchild said on Thursday that it would recall all unsold copies of YM Your Prom, as of Friday afternoon Black was still insisting, through a spokeswoman, that she had no intention of following suit.

Hearst offered a two-part explanation for its inaction: First, the blame lay with the advertiser, not the magazine, and second, the company had received only two complaints since distributing 600,000 copies of Teen Prom in December. “We’ve had more calls on this from the media than from parents,” said the spokeswoman. The unstated third part of the explanation was financial: Each issue of Teen Prom generates about $800,000 in circulation revenue for Hearst, and the publisher also would have to offer refunds to advertisers — or reprint and redistribute the issue — in the event of a recall.

Family advocacy groups were surprisingly divided in their reactions. A spokesman for Morality in Media was especially understanding. “It’s human error. You have to have some allowance for that,” he said. But Patti Miller, director of Children Now’s “Children and the Media” program, was less forgiving. “While this was advertising that was published in error, ultimately it’s [Hearst’s] responsibility,” she said. “These magazines should be pulled from the shelves.”

Editors of other teen magazines, meanwhile, pointed out how easily X-rated Web addresses can sneak into copy, as porn-site owners purposely buy up URLs that are similar to popular teen sites. Christina Kelly, Elle Girl’s executive editor, recalled inadvertently publishing a porn site’s address in 2002 at YM, where she was then editor in chief. Only one reader wrote in to complain, but YM still published a correction, said Kelly. “It’s frightening how often it can happen with a slight misspelling.”

This story first appeared in the February 14, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.