Monday, June 1, 2009

The top five myths about HuffPost --- versus the reality


HuffPost has achieved an unprecedented level of success, political access and influence in its four short years of existence --- a fact that has amazed many, and incited strong criticism in others. It is viewed by major advertisers, politicians at the uppermost levels of our government and others as being what it has repeatedly claimed it is: a legitimate, nonpartisan, professionally-managed news organization (in addition to a blogsite).

As is explained in The Political Evolution And "Legitimization" Of HuffPost, however, there are other factors that have generated this impression.

Specifically, there are five primary myths that HuffPost has propagated about itself that has aided it in garnering this "legitimization," and upon which it has relied to help deflect stinging criticism*, since early 2007 (*see here, Section 2 here, and Section B here):
  1. That it is a nonpartisan “news” source

  2. That it rigorously enforces its Comment Policy – and specifically its “zero tolerance” policy against any violations of it

  3. That comments that violate its policy are quickly removed once the site becomes aware of them, and are due to a “handful,” or a “miniscule number" of unknown offenders (“trolls”), who may be part of a conspiracy to embarrass it

  4. That it post-moderates user comments on its news story threads

  5. That it moderates user comments, and ejects users, on a nonpartisan basis

Here are summaries of each myth, versus the reality:

Myth #1:
HuffPost’s repeated claims that it is a nonpartisan “news” source

The following is a partial listing of quotes from Arianna Huffington (HuffPost's co-founder and Editor-In-Chief) regarding HuffPost’s allegedly nonpartisan journalistic principles. For full documentation, see Section A here:
“I actually believe that the news is not right-wing news or left-wing news, it's the news. And that will be the sensibility, that will basically permeate our news coverage.”
- May 3, 2005

“What we're doing is two things. We do news. I don't believe news is left wing or right wing. And then we do the group blog, which is going to be a dialogue from all viewpoints.”
- May 6, 2005

“The editorial stance of the Huffington Post is to debunk the right-left way of thinking, which has become completely obsolete."
- November 14, 2007

“[T]oo many reporters have forgotten that the highest calling of journalists is to ferret out the truth, consequences be damned[H]uffPost doesn't pretend not to have opinions, but it does make them transparent.”
- July 29, 2008

“[Arianna Huffington] is offended and bewildered by the suggestion that other news outlets think she's getting a free ride. She sees herself as the future of journalism, not the end of it.”
- March 19, 2009

“[W]e are increasingly seen ... as an Internet newspaper, not positioned ideologically in terms of how we cover the news.”
- May 22, 2009

The reality, however, is that:
  • Contrary to Ms. Huffington’s July 29, 2008 statement, as is documented in Section A(4) here, unlike other major political websites on the left and right, HuffPost does not make its opinions “transparent”; its “About Us” link contains only its masthead --- just as it has for years.

  • In regards to politics in general, we've produced a number of in-depth analyses of how HuffPost routinely frames “news” stories that unfairly smear non-leftist public figures and groups (archive here). Section B here contains a listing of criticisms of HuffPost from sources other than us, demonstrating that its “news” stories contain a strong leftist bias.

  • In regards to its “news” coverage of Israeli and Jewish affairs, as is documented here, HuffPost routinely uses biased, inflammatory headlines, headline imagery, story sourcing and reporting procedures. Together, these actions result in the incitement of unfairly anti-Israel (and often anti-Semitic) public perceptions and hatred --- which invariably show up in its comment threads.

Myth #2: HuffPost’s repeated claims that it rigorously enforces its Comment Policy – and specifically its “zero tolerance” policy against violations of it

HuffPost’s Comment Policy and Terms of Service ("CP-TOS") constitute the “rules” governing the site, and determine lawful access to it. The reality, however, is that:
  • For years, many of the user comments on HuffPost’s top news threads constitute clear violations of its CP-TOS (examples here).

  • In some instances, these violations are far more serious, extending into stalking, threats and/or urgings of violence --- against other users, non-leftist public figures (1, 2), and even protectees of the Secret Service (1, 2).

  • On HuffPost’s “news” thread concerning Israeli and Jewish affairs, a significant portion of user comments represent vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel libels, conspiracy theories and propaganda. In some instances, these "comments" go well beyond criticism, and into explicit and implicit threats against Jews and/or Israelis. See a detailed archive of this issue here.

    Other critics have noted this as well; see a listing of such allegations over the past several years, here. And as noted in CAMERA’s April 2009 report, in many instances users who post detailed counter-arguments and factual information are attacked and accused of being a paid or volunteer operative of a Jewish or Israel lobbying organization (AIPAC, et al).

Myth #3: HuffPost’s repeated claims
that comments that violate its policy are quickly removed once the site becomes aware of them, and are due to a “handful,” or a “miniscule number" of unknown offenders (“trolls”), who may be part of a conspiracy to embarrass it

HuffPost has promulgated this myth primarily in response to incidents of such outrageous user conduct that the site was discussed in the national media. The reality, however, is that:
  • In the vast majority of instances, the offenders are not “trolls;” they are long-term HuffPost users, the bulk of whom comprise its core, radical leftist constituency – a number of whom it has actively protected for years. The most common types of violations perpetrated by this "protected" caste of radical leftists are their vicious attacks against users who post opinions with which they disagree, on a personal basis (e.g. accusing them of engaging in homosexual, criminal or racist activities, etc.), "hijacking" threads for personal discussions, posting music, etc. At the same time that HuffPost permits these users to post upwards of hundreds of comments per day, it has routinely banned non-violating users who dare to challenge or mock them --- some, after as few as six comments. See a detailed analysis of this reality here:
    HuffPost's protection of the most egregious violators of its "policies" --- and its banning of non-violators, often on a minute-to-minute basis

  • In one prominent instance in 2007, HuffPost was humiliated in the national media for allowing its users to post their regrets that Vice President Cheney survived a Taliban assassination attempt – users whom Ms. Huffington dismissed as “a miniscule… clearly unhinged, fringe” minority, whose comments HuffPost quickly removed (see Section 1, here). Yet on the very same day, HuffPost chose to publish an article by one of its official bloggers who expressed the exact same regret. This was but one of a long list of such incidents that was discussed in the Media Research Center's September, 2007 report, Huffington's House of Horrors.

  • In 2008, after another public eruption over its user comments (in which they wished death upon Nancy Reagan), Ms. Huffington claimed that HuffPost "will not allow the vile actions of a handful of anonymous, trouble-making trolls to force us to shut down our comments section" (see Section 6, here). The reality, as is documented here, is that for nearly a year prior to this statement, and well after, HuffPost had been in the practice of shutting down its news threads to comments --- often before even a single comment could be posted. Most of these stories concerned Israeli and Jewish affairs, and the death or illness of non-leftist public figures.

  • In the same March 2008 incident (re Nancy Reagan), a producer of "The O'Reilly Factor" showed Ms. Huffington proof that the offensive comments were still published on HuffPost --- a month after she claimed they had all been removed. In response, she lashed out at O'Reilly, and insinuated that the comments may be part of a conspiracy being run by him to embarrass her site.

  • From late 2007 to the present day, HuffPost has actively protected one of its most notorious radical leftists, who has repeatedly posted threats and urgings of violence against other users, and even President Bush and Nancy Reagan. Starting in April 2008, HuffPost even permitted him to begin boasting about being interviewed in his home by the U.S. Secret Service, because of these “comments” of his on the site. See summary here, and detailed analysis here. Yet HuffPost continued to not only allow him to post comments (approximately 18,000 more, as of November 2009), but routinely censored and banned non-violating users who dared to speak out against or mock him.

Myth #4: HuffPost’s repeated claims that it post-moderates user comments on its news story threads
The following is a summary of a detailed article on this matter, here.

Since at least early 2007 and as of November 2009, HuffPost’s Comment Policy
has claimed that it “post-moderates” user comments on its news threads. This means that it only removes comments that violate its policies after-the-fact, once it becomes aware of them.

The reality, however, as documented here, is as follows:
  • Since March 2008 – and to some extent since October 2007 – HuffPost has been pre-moderating user comments on its news threads. This means that the only comments that appear on its news threads are those that it has reviewed, approved, and decided to publish. For example, in October 2007, HuffPost began placing this advisory at the top of all of its news threads, clearly indicating that some comments were “pending,” meaning that they were being reviewed, and would either be published or rejected:

  • In several incidents in March 2008, after the latest outrage – over users wishing the death of Nancy Reagan – HuffPost’s Community Manager announced (in since-removed* notices) that the site was going to be pre-moderating comments from then on (*see Section 5 here). On March 1, 2008, HuffPost began placing this notice at the top of all of its news threads:

  • In a July 2008 interview, Ms. Huffington stated that the biggest mistake HuffPost made was not pre-moderating all user comments on news threads since its inception. "Our comments on the news site were originally post-moderated (i.e., objectionable comments were removed only after our moderators were alerted). We eventually decided that it was worth the substantial effort and expense to have human pre-moderation on both blogs and news.

  • In December 2008, during Israel’s efforts to stop Hamas terrorist attacks (Operation Cast Lead), there were up to or more than 1,000 comments “pending” HuffPost’s approval or rejection. As is shown in the following screen capture, taken from a “news” thread regarding Cast Lead, there were 425 comments "published," while 892 were "pending" HuffPost's review, and decision as to whether to publish or reject them:

The monumental importance of these facts is this:
Every one of the comments that have appeared on HuffPost since (at least) March 1, 2008, has been the exclusive responsibility of HuffPost itself --- not of "anonymous, trouble-making trolls," or even of the egregious violators that HuffPost has chosen to enable and protect. HuffPost alone made the decision whether to publish them or not.

Myth #5: HuffPost’s repeated claims that it moderates user comments, and ejects users, on a nonpartisan basis

HuffPost’s Comment Policy
today claims, as it has for years, that:
“We never censor comments based on political or ideological point of view.”

The reality, as regular and long-term HuffPost users know, is very different.

Specifically, since late 2007 and to the present day, HuffPost has essentially established a de facto three-tier “caste” of users, to whom it applies very different moderation standards.
Uppermost caste: Radical leftists

Middle caste: "Others"

Lowest caste: Republicans, conservatives and libertarians

This is discussed and documented in extensive detail, here:

HuffPost's protection of the most egregious violators of its "policies" --- and its banning of non-violators, often on a minute-to-minute basis

In summary, for years, HuffPost has allowed and protected its radical leftists to essentially "live" on the site for 12-18 hours a day, and engage in the most vicious forms of hate speech and violations of (supposed) Comment Policy & Terms of Service. Even after it (temporarily) "banned" some of them, HuffPost fully reinstated them, within hours or days. Some of these users have amassed 40,000 - 75,000 comments under the same screen names (or near-identical alternates), over one to four years.

In contrast, as noted in Myth #3, HuffPost censors and has banned non-violating users who who dare to express conservative viewpoints, or challenge or mock its protected, "resident" gang of radical leftists, or respond to their vicious, personal attacks --- some,
after as few as six comments.

To prove these allegations, Huff-Watch has conducted several tests, capturing minute-to-minute documentation. See Section 8 here.


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