Hosting Puff: Why Doesn’t the Huffington Post Try Harder?

Pick any item that’s been in the news. It’s quite likely that a Huffington Post contributor has taken a stab at it– and left it bleeding. While the best work on the blogosphere is driven by strivers who are pushing themselves to report better, the HuffPost is filled with divers who are coasting on the soft expectations for blogs. Rather than fighting reader-for-reader as the solitary blog striver does, the blog diver on the Huffington Post can very quickly reach thousands of readers, forming a ready echo-chamber. (As with DailyKos, some items are featured on the front page, and many are not; but it’s not clear viewing an individual post from the archives via a search engine whether it had appeared on the front page.)

The supposed effect of the blogosphere being self-correcting may not well apply on the Huffington Post. Popular articles now attract hundreds of comments, and the changes of finding one being corrective approaches nil. There is no corrections page.

There were a couple of well-popularized corrections from 2006. In March, the Huffington Post staff ghost-wrote a piece for acting George Clooney, by stringing together things he’d said in public interviews. Founder Arianna Huffington explained that his publicist had approved it, but she acceded to Clooney’s wishes. In a more embarassing moment, Joe Lamont campaigner Jane Hamsher depicted Senator Joe Lieberman in blackface, and then withdrew it, after the ensuing criticism.

Shortly after the Clooney incident, Jeff Jarvis wrote on his blog: “This now affects the credibility of all the stars who post there.” Would that it did. In April 2006, there were 675 listed contributing writers. Today that number is 2,650, which means that, in the 18 months since, almost two thousand new people have felt comfortable enough with the Huffington Post editorial policy. Because the editorial policy of the Huffington Post is that there is no editorial policy: Anything goes.

Armchair media critics tend to focus on ideological bias or factual errors in mining the media for mistakes. But there’s a lot of other gunk on the HuffPost which ought to have been run through the mill first:

  • Self-Service. Mary Mapes, the disgraced producer of the infamous 60 Minutes segment about President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service, which relied partially on the infamous “Killian Memos” to support the story, has backed up her colleague’s lawsuit in Courage for Dan Rather: “We did get corroboration on the content and support from a couple of longtime document analysts saying they saw nothing indicating that the memos were not real.” The independent review panel report, despite Mapes’s and Rather’s accusation of bias, plainly said otherwise. Furthermore, in her book on the matter, Truth and Duty (page 189), Mapes wrote that she was “uncomfortable with the script, and in retrospect, I should have done something I’d never done at work before” — hold the story.

  • Not Doing the Math. Sheldon Drobny, a CPA and chairman of venture capital firm, wrote an article in June 2006. Liberals Are Supporting Fox News Channel. It’s true. His details were fuzzy: “If the subscriber base of a channel on Cable and satellite is large, the revenue to the channel is quite substantial even without advertising.” Despite his background in corporate finance, he never provided any estimate as to what that revenue is. I did. And the estimate for Fox News, as of the contract renewals beginning a year ago, is $850 million.

  • Gross Insensitivity. Martin Lewis, who describes himself as a “Hollywood-based humorist, commentator, producer and radio host” wrote a riff last month on the resurfaced 1994 Dick Cheney 1994 doubts on an Iraq invasion, which was titled Cheney YouTube Clip Reveals Massive Dem Failure. In it he poses the question, “So why on earth did the DNC not discover and secure a copy of this videotape at some point between the invasion of Iraq in May 2003 and the election in November 2004?” As to the ability of the DNC to discover this, I investigated this at length in my Video Search series. But Lewis’s very hypothesis is grossly insensitive. The Iraq war began in March 2003, not in May, as he wrote. And the best time for anybody to have uncovered the Vice President’s prior doubts on the war would have been before the war, not before the election.

Maybe this is just odd luck that every piece I’ve run into in the Huffington Post is pure hackery. There are some gems in the rough, after all. A prior piece Mary Mapes that wrote, The Ghosts Bush Left Behind, contrasted President Bush’s pardon of Scooter Libby with the scant use of the pardon he’d used as Governor of Texas. It drew on her knowledge from covering Bush in Texas, and had much more heart to it. But it may well have been lost amidst all of the hackery that appears.

This wouldn’t be a problem if Huffington Post were “just another blog.” But it isn’t. According to Alexa’s numbers, it’s competitive with Slate and Salon, and it has five times the traffic of The Nation or Talking Points Memo. (Alexa is oddly missing data for Slate before 2006.)

The Huffington Post now has 25 editorial positions, according to the Guardian (not that any are given on a masthead). There were 300 items posted a week. Would it kill them to start to split them up amongst the editors, particularly the featured posts? None of the above stories would necessarily have been canned. They could have been made better. Mapes would simply have been asked to reconcile with her passage in her book. Drobny might have discovered the numbers on Fox that I did. Lewis might have educated the readership why it was virtually impossible for “the DNC” to have located the Cheney video before the war (and not, mind you, before the election).

Of course, it couldn’t really be called a “blog” anymore. Somehow I don’t think the readers would be that picky. There’s no reason the contributors should object either. They’d benefit by being part of a more respectable publication.