HuffPo Blogger Fired for Using Press Creds to Abet Union Protesters

January 24th, 2011 7:00 PM

Just because the site was founded by an alleged plagiarist doesn't mean it's totally devoid of ethical clout. Though you do have to wonder: from where does the Huffington Post recruit its bloggers?

The site reportedly informed one of its unpaid contributors last week that he was being let go. The offense: he had used his press credentials as a HuffPo blogger to get labor union demonstrators access to a Mortgage Bankers Association event, where they staged a rowdy protest.

Yahoo News reporter Joe Pompeo wrote of the event on Monday:

The commotion attracted a fair amount of media attention -- even CNBC gave it some airtime that afternoon. But what didn't make it into the news reports was how the union members gained access into the conference -- held at Washington's posh JW Marriott -- in the first place.

As it turns out, they were abetted by Mike Elk, a 24-year-old freelance labor journalist who secured press credentials to the event through his affiliation as a blogger with the Huffington Post, and who then passed those credentials off to one of the union organizers.

That move cost Elk, well, his unpaid gig as a Huffington Post blogger.

"I'm sorry to say we are revoking your access to our blog and ending our association," Peter Goodman, HuffPo's business editor, wrote to Elk in a Jan. 20 email obtained by The Cutline. "I appreciate that what happened yesterday was a poor decision on your part, one made on the spur of the moment, but it was simply over the line from an ethical standpoint and it would compromise our integrity to have you continue to write for us or represent us in any way."

Elk, who said he has contributed more than 100 posts since being recruited as a blogger in 2009 by the website's national editor, Nico Pitney, sees it differently.

"I never lied to anybody at any step in this process," he told The Cutline on Friday. "There is a tradition in labor journalism to be active participant journalists," he added, citing Michael Moore, who also blogs for HuffPo. "This is a tactic union organizers use all the time."

Perhaps Elk's problem has to do with his invocation of Michael Moore and union organizers as exemplars of journalistic integrity. Again, it is refreshing to see HuffPo do the right thing in this instance, but one has to wonder how a person with such a skewed perception of honest journalistic practices got the gig in the first place.

As Pompeo reminded us, this is not the first time the site's contributors have demonstrated a considerable lack of basic ethics in their reporting. HuffPo has not always been as proactive as it was in this instance:

Indeed, it's not the first time one of HuffPo's unpaid contributors acted outside the realm of traditional journalistic standards. Most famously, there was Mayhill Fowler, the former HuffPo blogger who in the lead-up to the 2008 election taped a conversation with Bill Clinton without his knowledge that he was either speaking to a journalist or being recorded.

Fowler, of course, was allowed to keep writing until she eventually severed her own ties with the website because it refused to pay her for her posts.

For his part, Elk slammed HuffPo for buying into a "corporatist" model of journalism.