Memo to: Arianna Huffington, Howard Fineman, Sam Stein, Amanda Terkel, Alex Wagner, and other respected journalists at the Huffington Post.
Dear Writers and Editors,
It has become increasingly and painfully obvious that the previous standards for journalistic integrity at the Huffington Post are being ‘challenged’. The slippage seems to have occurred around the time of the AOL merger. While it isn’t clear that this event is the cause, you may have recently noticed an increase in complaints from your readership in the commentary section of your articles.
Misleading headlines are becoming de rigueur for your articles. Titles using titillating key words that really have nothing to do with the article, titles that are only tangentially related to the topic, and titles that are just blatantly sensationalist all designed, of course, to get your readers to click on them. At first it was annoying but we chalked it up to inexperienced writers because, as everyone knows, much of your content comes from unpaid bloggers which is a separate complaint that I understand Huffington Post will soon be addressing in court.
But then the misleading titles went beyond annoying and became insulting. Your readers would see a headline that looked suspiciously sensational and click it only to confirm that they had been suckered into an article that wasn’t the least bit close to what the title implied. We felt cheapened and used, quite frankly.
But now you are wading into the waters of dishonesty. Here are a couple of examples from this past weekend:
This is regarding the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Saturday. Technically the title is true. Ron Paul did beat out the others in a poll at that event by a wide margin but the article failed to provide any details as to why that was the case. It didn’t mention that the Ron Paul campaign may have been unduly influencing the results of these straw polls by providing incentives for his supporters to attend these events in order to stuff the ballot box and give a false impression of national popularity (see previous article on the topic). In fact, the Ron Paul campaign is likely counting on news outlets to do just what you did and report it as fact without critical analysis or details. To the uniformed who do not know what a straw poll is or that it is not a true, randomized poll or an accurate depiction of national results but a snapshot at an event that is subject to influence, is giving a tacit impression that Paul is the frontrunner of the Republican primary. Professional polls indicate that he is not the national frontrunner yet you neglect to mention that. But here’s an even more egregious example:
This was in response to a segment on the Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday, June 16 in regards to the Anthony Weiner scandal and the subsequent media circus revolving around it. The alternate headline to this reads “Maddow is Furious!”. I’ve watched the segment a couple of times and furious is not the emotion that came across to me but be that as it may, the main headline is just a flat-out lie. Maddow said that the media’s reaction to the Weiner story and the Democrat’s failure to react to the media coverage will cause the Democratic Party damage for a generation not Weiner’s resignation itself. Her words:
Congratulations, Democrats. In an era of unhinged, ideological, big-money, conservative media that is wholly and admittedly divorced from the precepts of journalism in hounding Anthony Weiner into resigning, for the distraction of all this coverage, you have just fed and unleashed this beast against yourselves probably for a generation
Your headline and the body of the article make it appear as if her criticism was of Anthony Weiner’s behaviour when in fact, she was being critical of Democrats and of the media (that would be you, Huffington Post).
It has been painful to watch the Huffington Post turn into a tabloid that is no different than the kind in the check-out aisle at the supermarket hawking Bat Boy sightings or alien abductions but that appears to be where you are headed. If that is indeed where the bar is set that you feel is necessary to move click-thrus, you’ve certainly managed to limbo beneath it.
The behaviour of the shock jocks at Weiner’s press conference was worse than anything Anthony Weiner did but the complicitous race to the bottom that the rest of the media is taking is becoming worrisome. Maddow and Jon Stewart’s criticisms of today’s media are correct. We are past treading down a slippery slope and are now enthusiastically diving down it like a Slip-n-Slide covered in cooking oil. The integrity in journalism is being compromised. Your Internet newspaper/aggregator is participating in it. And it needs to stop. You guys are better than this.