Arianna Huffington's AOL deal sparks accusations of a political sell-out
(guardian.co.uk) -- by Paul Harris --
Arianna Huffington has long reigned as the queen of America's chattering classes, using her Huffington Post website as a platform to transform herself into a darling of the United States' left-leaning media elite.
But no longer. Since she announced that the HuffPo was being sold to web giant AOL for $315m, Huffington has been accused of being a political sellout and someone who made a personal fortune from the labour of thousands of bloggers who write for no pay.
America's Newspaper Guild, the journalists' union, has started a campaign to target the Huffington Post as having a business model that has done great damage by not paying contributors. It has demanded that Huffington donate some of her AOL deal profits to investing in paid journalism. "After building a media empire based on unpaid writers and republishing the works of others... we are calling on Arianna Huffington to invest in quality journalism by sharing a portion of this fortune," said the guild's president, Bernie Lunzer.
That appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears. HuffPo spokesman Mario Ruiz denied the website was a problem for the industry, saying: "It's both wrong and offensive to insist that the HuffPo is exploiting journalists."
But since the AOL deal was announced this month, there has been an avalanche of criticism of the website and its smooth-talking founder. "To grasp its business model... you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates," blasted Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten.
Blogger and cartoonist Matt Bors revealed that he refused a HuffPo offer to put his work on the website because it would not pay him. He called the HuffPo business model of offering publicity and exposure instead of money "abhorrent". David Carr, the New York Times media critic, mentioned the HuffPo's business practices in an article headlined "At media companies, a nation of serfs".
Even HuffPo bloggers joined the condemnation. One, RB Stuart, lamented posting content on HuffPo that she estimated was worth $25,000, writing: "Arianna not only sold her soul as well as her ship of slaves, but sowed the seeds of her demise with this act of greed and exploitation." Other bloggers said they would never write for her again and a Facebook page was set up to get the HuffPo to pay its bloggers. It was called "Hey Arianna, can you spare a dime?". Advertising Age columnist, and HuffPo critic, Simon Dumenco gleefully catalogued all the criticism in a piece entitled "Welcome aboard the anti-HuffPo bandwagon".
It is a remarkable turnaround for Huffington's image, which has long bathed in a glow of positive publicity. After founding the HuffPo in 2005, the former Republican and socialite rapidly turned it into one of the world's most influential websites and a self-declared liberal alternative to the conservative Fox News channel. It won her plaudits from new media evangelists and America's beleaguered Democrats. She became a regular pundit on cable news shows and a fixture of Democratic social circles.
But not so much now, especially after Huffington said she had always envisioned the HuffPo as more than just a politics website and said it had no overall ideology. To many observers that seemed like a deliberate rewriting of the past, and certainly a strong suggestion that AOL's corporate ownership would see it tone down the site's liberal campaigning...MORE...LINK
Arianna Huffington with fellow celebrity limousine liberal swindler Bill Maher