An article on the Huffington Post seems to be reaching into the tabloid press for guidance on journalistic practice. The author, Sam Stein, a recent Dartmouth graduate, has compiled a catalog of innuendo so flimsy it’s inconceivable that any seasoned editor would allow it to be published.
Unfortunately, the editors at the Huffington Post did publish it. And all it amounts to is an unverified and salacious attack on John Edwards. What’s worse is that this is not the first time that this drivel was posted. Just two weeks ago, essentially the same story, with the same factual emptiness, was posted at HuffPo. If I had the reportorial lack of ethics that Stein has, I would accuse Arianna of having it in for Edwards.
The premise of the column is that there is something suspicious about expenditures by Edwards on a film production, as well as his relationship with the producer. The problem is that Stein only has questions, but no answers. That’s enough for him to make sly suggestions that have no basis in fact. For example:
|What Stein Says||Why Stein Fails|
|“…shortly after Edwards declared his White House aspirations, the footage all but disappeared from public view.”||Stein does not bother to explain what might have happened or why i’s important. He has no statement from Edwards. He just leaves the empty assertion dangling.|
|“Little was known about Hunter as well.”||And Stein does little to elucidate us.|
|“The Huffington Post has uncovered a deleted website that formerly belonged to Hunter […] there is little indication as to what Hunter did professionally.”||So HuffPo found an old web site that has nothing to do with any of this and Stein tries to inject some nefarious meaning into that.|
|“…the 44-year-old Hunter (formerly known as Lisa Druck) discusses her former hard partying days, her search for enlightenment, and her issues with drugs and debt.”||Stein reveals here that an actress, who may have a stage name, has lived through a rowdy and imperfect youth, something no one else has ever done. And this is relevant, how?|
|“So why was Hunter’s website – which had no material related to her work with Edwards or the Edwards’ campaign – taken down?
Emails and calls to Midline Groove Productions went unanswered.”
|Stein doesn’t bother to answer this question. He just posits it with a raised eyebrow and casts further aspersions with images of unanswered emails.|
|“…why did Edwards choose someone with limited film experience to document his behind-the-scenes campaign presence
The Senator’s campaign, likewise, did not return calls requesting comment.”
|Why did the Huffington Post choose someone with limited reporting experience to document, or more correctly, fail to document, a non-story that is devoid of facts?|
|“…was the more than $100,000 spent by Edwards’ One American Committee – itself dedicated to fighting poverty and lifting Americans into the middle class – worth it?”||Gee, I don’t know. And apparently neither does Stein because he does next to nothing to find out or provide authoritative context.|
This is uncommonly shoddy work that Arianna Huffington should find unacceptable and embarrassing. It is already having a Drudge-like effect in the media echo chamber. On Tucker Carlson’s program today, his guest, Ann Coulter, alluded to a story from the National Enquirer about John Edwards having an affair. That story is equally lacking in substance, as is to be expected from the Enquirer. Are the items related? I can’t say, but the dates match up [oh great, now I’m doing it].
Even if the only connection to these stories is that they both represent the worst in journalism, there is still an important distinction. The National Enquirer has worked hard for decades to establish its reputation for unreliability and falsehood. Until now, I would have suspected that that is not the goal of the Huffington Post. But when the first version of this article appeared last month, the comments were inundated with indignation at how such a poorly written and sourced article could get online. Why on earth would they repeat such an egregious error? I hope they will take the appropriate measures to assure that they do not travel further down this road, but in case they need help…