Let’s say you run a popular flea market. Like, really popular. Your vendors don’t necessarily hawk the best wares, but people come from far and wide anyway because they like that your market is a one-stop shop that brings together a spectacularly vast array of products. And it’s built up a great reputation through the years, so people feel like they can trust your underpaid, ragtag group of motivated vendors.
Now, having sold your popular flea market for hundreds of millions of dollars to an aging owner of vacant lots, together you decide the best way to get even more all-important foot traffic through the door is to expand the number of sellers. Would you, having come to this rather normal business decision, hire:
A) a respected merchant from a well-reputed store in town?
B) a much-ballyhooed young merchant with a sizable clientele who’s earned the big stage?
C) a well-known discredited swindler who comes wickedly close to boasting about his underhanded sales tactics in order to sell as much useless controversial crap as possible?
If you answered C, congratulations, you are Arianna Huffington. And if you are C, sorry, but you are Internet raconteur and master of conservative agitprop Andrew Breitbart.
Breitbart, who in a past life (when he looked like he actually slept) was a researcher for Huffington and claims he helped launch the Huffington Post, is now blogging for the site. Full circle, indeed.
The problem with the Eyeball Grab Business Model™ is that inevitably you’ll sleep with whomever will make for the best-trafficked bedfellow, regardless of the consequences. But it’s not all that much different than intentionally having sex with someone you know has gonorrhea. It might burn two to five days later.
I’m all for the (flea) marketplace of ideas. The point of this is not to say that conservatives shouldn’t have a home on the Huffington Post or elsewhere in the “lamestream media.” They do, and they should. But what Breitbart does is in no way reputable, in no way above-board and in no way should be affiliated with anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a credible source of news and information.
In one single decision, Huffington managed to wipe out the good journalistic deeds she’s done by hiring New York Times business reporter Peter Goodman and Newsweek senior Washington correspondent Howard Fineman. And it’s new Huffington hires like that who should be pissed about it.
In his very first piece, an intellectually challenged missive that seemed to say “Thanks for the keys to the car, Mom, I promise to bring it back in only 20-30 pieces,” Breitbart launched a partisan attack that propped up the equally discredited James O’Keefe, waged war on NPR and had the audacity to refer to his passion for “honest debate” and “fairness in the media.” His first paragraph:
Breitbart admitted right out of the gate that he has no intention of serving his new employer well, for his idea of a “success story” and “honest debate” is someone who edited a video so underhandedly that even notorious fabricator Glenn Beck’s site, The Blaze, took O’Keefe’s NPR to task for completely distorting truth and destroying reality.
But, for Breitbart, this is reality. Reality for him is making his name on complete and utter fabrications, for playing more than fast and loose with facts, for smearing the name of a government employee named Shirley Sherrod when he knew the tape he published would be taken wildly out of context, for his role in the heavily edited pimp-n-prostitute videos that demolished an organization called ACORN that advocated for low- and moderate-income families.
This is the man Arianna Huffington chose to hire to blog? This is not a marketplace of ideas. This is not about freedom of speech. This is about a sinister man with sinister motives doing everything he can to poison truth and to attract controversy so he can profit from it. And now, perhaps, the same can be said about Arianna Huffington — attract as much controversy, then profit from it. We all lose on this one.
Slade Sohmer is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of HyperVocal.com. He also spent two years as the executive producer of the Lou Dobbs Show, where he learned often about the marketplace of ideas and a thing or two about having civil conversations with people with whom you don’t agree.