New York Times and Google: Your New Synthetic Marijuana Dealers?

The New York Times deigns to notice St. Louis!
As you may have heard, K2 -- synthetic marijuana -- is all the rage lately. The substance, sometimes marketed as incense, was recently banned in Missouri, and is well on its way to illegality in other states, including New York. The New York Times, naturally, got in on the story last week, letting former RFT-er Malcolm Gay on the loose in his old St. Louis stomping grounds to report on the ban. 

The story itself was well-reported and thorough -- it was the advertising next to it that caught our eye: 

Thumbnail image for k2warrow.JPG
Anyone need some fake weed? The New York Times can point you in the right direction for some "Premium Herbal Incense," on sale at
We gave the Times a buzz to ask them about the K2 ads, which appeared twice alongside the article -- and again when we searched for "synthetic marijuana" on the site's search page.

Click behind the jump to see their reaction. 

The New York Times uses Google AdWords as sidebar advertisements, which automatically generates ads based on keyword searches that match up with the content of the article. 

But isn't advertising something that's illegal or in the process of becoming illegal a little, eh, iffy? Or at least kind of strange for the oh-so-dignified New York Times?

Diane McNulty, New York Times Co.'s executive director of community affairs and media relations, responded: 

Google is allowed to contextualize their search ads on our website and geographically target their audience.   If the product offered is illegal or does not comply with our advertising acceptability policies,  we can block the sites.  Several categories of search terms are already blocked, and we periodically add more.

Thanks for bringing the existence of the K2 ads to our attention.  Since the sale of K2 is illegal in the State of New York (and several other jurisdictions), we will be blocking the delivery of Google-provided K2 ads on

And, just like that, another search keyword -- and source of revenue for the ailing newspaper industry -- bites the dust.

Now, when you go to check out the article online, all you get, advertising-wise, are the usual in-house ads for subscriptions and classifieds listings. Social responsibility strikes again!

As a sidenote, we took it upon ourselves to find some other banned search keywords on the New York Times site. If you search for "sausage," "escort," or "child porn," well, you're out of luck. Sorry to burst your bubble of thinly veiled (or not veiled at all) innuendo. 

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