Following its controversial decision to ban Andrew Breitbart from publishing articles at its front page, the Huffington Post has found itself in quite a pickle now that one of its regular contributors, comedian Bill Maher, made disgustingly vulgar references to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
As NewsBusters previously reported, Breitbart made some comments about President Obama's former green czar Van Jones that precipitated the following hypocritical statement from HuffPo spokesman Mario Ruiz last Thursday (readers are warned of vulgar content in full article):
The Huffington Post is committed to fostering a lively and often provocative debate about the issues of the day and encourages a wide range of voices from all perspectives to participate. Andrew Brietbart’s [sic] false ad hominem attack on Van Jones in The Daily Caller violates the tenets of debate and civil discourse we have strived for since the day we launched. As a result, we will no longer feature his posts on the front page.
He is welcome to continue publishing his work on HuffPost provided it adheres to our editorial guidelines, as the two posts he published on HuffPost did -- guidelines that include a strict prohibition on ad hominem attacks. Our decision today recognizes that placing posts on the front page is an editorial call that elevates some posts over others, and is an indication of how seriously we take these judgment calls.
Just what were Breitbart's supposedly offensive comments?
Van Jones is a commie punk. He was exposed to a great extent because of the hard journalism that was done at my website, that exposed him as a guy who was an unvetted liability to the Obama administration. He was forced to step down because of my journalistic work. [...]
I believe that Van Jones, and Color of Change, and ACORN poison the black community with propaganda that divides this country. Van Jones is a human toxin, ACORN was a human toxin. These are poisonous, venomous forces within the American experience. I will expose them like the cockroaches that they are.
Which is worse: calling a man a "commie punk" or a woman a "cunt"? One would certainly think the latter, yet HuffPo has yet to comment.
With this in mind, I sent co-founder Arianna Huffington and editor Roy Sekoff the following email message Tuesday:
Ms. Huffington and Mr. Sekoff:
Noel Sheppard here from NewsBusters. I'm wondering if Bill Maher calling former Alaska governor Sarah Palin a "twat" and a "cunt" violates the Huffington Post's "tenets of debate and civil discourse" that Mario Ruiz noted in his statement concerning Andrew Breitbart's banning from your front page.
One would think such vulgar slurs are far worse than anything Breitbart said to the Daily Caller concerning Van Jones.
Is Maher going to be banned from your front page? When are you planning on notifying your readers of this decision, and if not, why not?
After a number of hours went by without a response, I sent another one to Huffington and Sekoff but separately this time:
This is Noel Sheppard, the Associate Editor of NewsBusters trying for the second time to get a comment from you regarding Bill Maher being a front page contributor to the Huffington Post. As you know, in the past twelve days, Maher has called former Alaska governor Sarah Palin a “twat” and a “cunt.”
Your Mario Ruiz in his statement concerning Andrew Breitbart’s banning from the Post’s front page said Breitbart’s comments in the Daily Caller about Van Jones had violated the “tenets of debate and civil discourse.” We at NewsBusters would like an explanation as to why Maher’s attacks on Palin aren’t at least as bad as Breitbart’s comments regarding Jones. As we see Maher’s offense as far worse, given the Post’s rules, we would like to know either why you disagree or when Maher is going to be banned from your front page.
We would like a response concerning this matter at your earliest convenience.
Having still not received a response, on Wednesday morning I sent a roughly similar version of the following to HuffPo reporters Jason Linkins, Sam Stein, and the spokesman that issued the Breitbart statement, Mario Ruiz:
This is Noel Sheppard, the Associate Editor of NewsBusters trying to get a comment from you regarding Bill Maher being a front page contributor to the Huffington Post.
As you know, in the past twelve days, Maher has called former Alaska governor Sarah Palin a “twat” and a “cunt.” In your statement concerning Andrew Breitbart’s banning from the Post’s front page, you said Breitbart’s comments about Van Jones in the Daily Caller violated the “tenets of debate and civil discourse.”
We at NewsBusters would like an explanation as to why Maher’s attacks on Palin aren’t at least as bad as Breitbart’s comments regarding Jones. As we see Maher’s offense as far worse, given the Post’s rules, we would like to know either why you disagree or when Maher is going to be banned from your front page.
We would like a response concerning this matter at your earliest convenience.
Later in the day Wednesday, having only received a response from Linkins who advised me to contact Ruiz, I sent the following to the entire group:
Arianna Huffington et al,
I have been trying for several days to get an answer concerning the Huffington Post’s position on Bill Maher as a contributor given his recent vulgar attacks on Sarah Palin and your decision to ban Andrew Breitbart from your front page due to comments he made regarding Van Jones. To date, no one has responded.
NewsBusters is going to be running a piece concerning this matter Thursday and would like an opinion about it from someone within your organization. If I don’t hear back, we have no choice but to run the piece without your input while advising our readers of your silence.
Sadly, as of 11:00 AM, I still have no response, not even from HuffPo spokesman Ruiz. Is this the kind of transparency we can expect from AOL/Huffington Post in the future?
Of course, I realize Arianna et al are in a very tough spot. They made what was clearly an absurd statement about "tenets of debate and civil discourse we have strived for since the day we launched" when everyone in the industry knows their website is filled with hateful rhetoric and ad hominem attacks against conservatives on almost a daily basis.
The laughter at Ruiz's statement throughout the blogosphere on both sides of the aisle was deafening.
Complicating matters further was one of their popular contributors the day after Breitbart was canned making a vulgar slur at Palin and another one nine days later.
As most people know, Huffington has been friends with Maher for years. She was a regular guest on his Comedy Central program "Politically Incorrect" appearing in an ongoing gag with Al Franken called "Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows."
Maybe more importantly, Maher is a darling of the Left. Would Huffington dare do anything to him like she did to Breitbart?
Unfortunately, not doing so totally invalidates the reason given by Ruiz for Breitbart's demotion.
No wonder I didn't get any replies to my email messages as I'm sure these folks hope this matter is going to just go away as quickly as possible - but they shouldn't count on it.
Maher's vitriolic attacks have been in the sights of writers on both sides of the aisle for years. The folks at HuffPo should know that any time one of his comments crosses the "tenets of debate and civil discourse" line they have set for their contributors, the blogosphere will be asking why he's still a front page contributor at their website.
More importantly, their continued silence regarding this glaring hypocrisy will act to reduce whatever journalistic integrity and credibility they claim to strive for potentially leading AOL and its shareholders to seriously question their investment.