Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

On Misrepresentation

By now I'm sure many readers are as sick as I am about the "what is a blog?" discussions. I've lost count of how many times I've said "bloggers are writers who use a set of computer-based tools to compose one-to-many entries; journalists are a specific subset of writers so some bloggers are journalists and others aren't" yadda yadda. But one thing usually isn't in contention - the blog's byline (whether actual or pseudonymous) is assumed to match the person writing the words. Particularly if the entry in question contains a phrase like "There, I Said It!"

When the Huffington Post group blog began I admit I had the same caveat lector trepidation I usually reserve for celebrity-filled blogs. Because so many of them are living in a world where Their People do everything for them short of bathroom visits, and because so many are - like non-celebrities - fairly neophobic, I usually assume that any blog with their name on it isn't written by them. Also, it's pretty easy to spot the exceptions - Rosie O'Donnell (whose entries I quite like despite the freeform poetry-prose she uses), Wil Wheaton (whom I'll always consider the first true celeblogger), Margaret Cho, David Byrne, even Pete Townsend when he chooses to update. And since celebs like Harry Shearer have done a great job on HuffPost, their index is chock-full of other celebs who've occasionally posted, and the celeb in question last Monday is well known for his liberal views, there was no reason to doubt that the following post from was real:
I Am a Liberal. There, I Said It!
By George Clooney on Iraq

I am a liberal. And I make no apologies for it. Hell, I'm proud of it.

Too many people run away from the label. They whisper it like you'd whisper "I'm a Nazi." Like it's dirty word. But turn away from saying "I'm a liberal" and it's like you're turning away from saying that blacks should be allowed to sit in the front of the bus, that women should be able to vote and get paid the same as a man, that McCarthy was wrong, that Vietnam was a mistake. And that Saddam Hussein had no ties to al-Qaeda and had nothing to do with 9/11.

This is an incredibly polarized time (wonder how that happened?). But I find that, more and more, people are trying to find things we can agree on. And, for me, one of the things we absolutely need to agree on is the idea that we're all allowed to question authority. We have to agree that it's not unpatriotic to hold our leaders accountable and to speak out.

That's one of the things that drew me to making a film about Murrow. When you hear Murrow say, "We mustn't confuse dissent with disloyalty" and "We can't defend freedom at home by deserting it at home," it's like he's commenting on today's headlines.

The fear of been criticized can be paralyzing. Just look at the way so many Democrats caved in the run up to the war. In 2003, a lot of us were saying, where is the link between Saddam and bin Laden? What does Iraq have to do with 9/11? We knew it was bullshit. Which is why it drives me crazy to hear all these Democrats saying, "We were misled." It makes me want to shout, "Fuck you, you weren't misled. You were afraid of being called unpatriotic."

Bottom line: it's not merely our right to question our government, it's our duty. Whatever the consequences. We can't demand freedom of speech then turn around and say, But please don't say bad things about us. You gotta be a grown up and take your hits.

I am a liberal. Fire away.

Great post, referenced in lots of places in the lefty blogosphere. Thing is, though, as it turns out it doesn't actually fit the definition of a blog post - i.e., a piece of one-to-many writing composed at a computer by the person whose byline appears atop the entry - as it wasn't in fact written by Clooney, but rather culled from various statements he made in interviews and structured by Huffington to look like a blog post.

At first I couldn't figure out the entire story, as all I saw was Huffington's explanation-slash-pseudo-apology which followed. But thanks to Jane Hamsher I found this blog post by Elizabeth Snead at the LA Times, which gives a fairly complete rundown of events (including updates).

Snead follows up with what may be the real story behind the story - basically, Clooney's People on the left hand didn't connect with Clooney's People on the right hand. See, in Hollywood folks like Clooney have personal publicists (the snubbed guy whom Arianna didn't even know) and independent publicists that handle various projects on which they work (the gal to whom Arianna actually spoke) and I wouldn't doubt at all that those publicists have publicists. So it's not a matter of Clooney not standing behind the words attributed to him - which he does, make no mistake - but of his guy getting snubbed (as well as the words appearing not really being a post by Clooney because, after all, the guy can write and probably would have wanted to structure something for HuffPost in his doubtless copious free time if Arianna had been a bit more patient).

Obviously this is all mountains-out-of-molehills with a hefty dose of typical Lalaland bullshit thrown in, but the end result is a lot of people asking, as a commenter did in a response to Snead's follow-up (which comment also mentioned a Walter Cronkite post actually being culled from a letter Cronkite had sent to the Drug Policy Alliance), "How many other 'phony bloggers' are posting at Huffington??"

The Huffington Post doesn't need more participation; it already churns out a few dozen posts a day by its various writers. And it doesn't need more celebrity appeal, judging by its index. So why does Arianna feel the need to mislabel stuff she's reprinted from elsewhere as being a blog post by the person who spoke or wrote the words she's reprinting? And why remove the Clooney post in its entirety (unless she was asked to) rather than just adding a disclaimer or other parenthetical stating where the words are from? It's not like there isn't a method for doing this. Lots of bloggers repro important and interesting things (speeches, columns, letters, interview excerpts) from other sources, sometimes with links and sometimes without. None of the bloggers reprinting Paul Krugman's NY Times columns are claiming to be Krugman. In her haste to jump the gun and make her blog seem more exclusive and important than it actually is, Huffington has shot herself in the foot here. And the shame of it is, The Huffington Post is already interesting and informative and celeb-laden enough that none of this was necessary. Sometimes eagerness and good intentions are a bad combination.

Update #1: Apparently Arianna still doesn't get it. It's not that she "repurposed" Clooney's words from interviews, it's that she didn't label them as repurposed - she made them into a blog post and signed his name to it. She seems willfully myopic about how much negative press this loss of credibility has garnered; all she sees is that the post got an "overwhelmingly positive response and provok[ed] a great deal of valuable discussion." Can someone please clue her in? Otherwise people are going to keep wondering if that's really Jack Klugman or Alec Baldwin and it'll just keep going on like that and pretty soon there will be no reason to believe anyone there is who she says they are.

Update #2: Finally, I think she's got it.

Update #3: Hey look, the NY Times discovers the story, only two days after it's all played out! Apparently that's called journalism!