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Media Whores / S.H.A.M.E. / July 20, 2012
By Yasha Levine

This is the first of a series of posts that will explore and expand on the recovered history of Arianna Huffington recently unearthed by S.H.A.M.E.

Ever since its transformation from a celebrity blog into a mainstream news media outlet, Arianna Huffington has marketed the Huffington Post to the public as a media outlet whose purpose is to leverage social media and new Internet technologies to democratize news and empower the American people by wresting control of news away from corrupt elites. To hear her tell it, you’d think that the Huffington Post was nothing less than a staging area for a populist revolt to reclaim American democracy from corporate rule:

The tech advances of the last few years have turned the news and entertainment worlds on their ears, shifting the balance of power away from media pooh-bahs dictating what is important and what is not, and towards consumers — and citizens — being empowered to choose and create. Technology is poised to have the same game-changing effect on the political world.

But HuffPo’s marketing executives tell a different, contradictory story.

HuffPo is not a news organization at all, according to Greg Coleman, Huffington Post’s president and chief revenue officer. He told Ad Age in 2010 that HuffP was a “social-media company” that exists to “help our marketers beam their messages throughout the internet, across the galaxy, the internet, and the world.”

“We make [corporations] part of the conversation,” explained another HuffPo marketing executive in 2011. “We’re acting as a social-media agency for our advertisers on The Huffington Post. We’ve become advisers to some of these companies about how to conduct the social-media outreach . . .  We help them counter this sort of one-sided conversation that is going on on the Internet about their companies.”

For all the problems of traditional media, at least newspapers have some sort of a wall between news and advertising. Sure, advertisers and sponsors still wield considerable influence over editorial content, but at least there is a tension between the two opposing forces. The Huffington Post, on the other hand, is about knocking that wall down—all in the name of democratic empowerment. After all, the separation between editorial and advertising discriminates against the corporate point of view. Why even have the division? Why is a CEO’s point of view less valuable than that of a reporter? Who makes that decision?

HuffPo ends this discrimination by leveling the playing field, and letting the reader decide: Rather than publishing their advertisers’ press releases and ads, editors refashion them as blog posts and articles that look like the rest of HuffPo, and allow the company to be “part of the community.”

In journalism, this is considered corrupt and manipulative. At HuffPo, it’s called  “sponsor-generated content.”

Naturally, advertisers love HuffPo’s sponsor-generated-content strategy. It gives their message progressive credibility, all while reaching a huge cross-section of the American population. When Arianna sold the Huffington Post to AOL in 2011, the site had 30.5 million U.S. people reading it every month. That’s nearly 10 percent of the entire population of the United States! On top of that, 9 million more people visited the site from overseas.

HuffPo execs bragged that sponsor-generated content more than doubled HuffPo’s advertising revenue in 2010, and earned it about $3 million in the first three months of 2011.

Below are just a few of the most egregious examples of HuffPo’s “sponsor-generated content” at work:

Pushing positive PR for foreign dictators

The New York Times reported that in 2009 HuffPo published a short article  accompanied by a “fashion slide show” titled “Asma al-Assad: Syria’s First Lady and All-Natural Beauty” not long after the Assad family began using Western PR firms to “shape her image.”

A couple weeks ago headlines were made when Syrian First Lady, Asma Al Assad invited the Obamas to Damascus. HuffPost readers ended up commenting more on Asma’s beauty and less on what an Obama/Assad meeting would mean for the Middle East. And we couldn’t help but notice the Syrian beauty either. In a region where the women love to cake on their make-up, it is very refreshing to see the wife of President Bashar al-Assad with very little on.

We also noticed her love for Christian Louboutin platforms, sunglasses, and her signature wavy hair.

During pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011 at the start of the Arab Spring, HuffPo published a series of blog posts that whitewashed well-documented Bahraini police brutality, and instead blamed demonstrators for the violence erupting in the country.

Ken Silverstein wrote it up for Salon:

Ever since last February, when security forces in Bahrain brutally cracked down on demonstrators at the Pearl Monument, human rights groups have documented extensive violence by the government against pro-democracy protesters. In late  November, an independent commission hired by the country’s king released a report that said 35 people had been killed during the protests, including five detainees who were tortured to death, and that hundreds more had been injured and nearly 3,000 arrested.

But to judge from Tom Squitieri — the self-described “stargazer, Award winning reporter, communications crafter” who has tweeted and blogged about events in Bahrain for Huffington Post and the Foreign Policy Association — demonstrators are largely to blame for the violence. In one item he wrote about a girl named Zahra who “was attacked with an iron bar wielded by protestors” and a demonstrator named Ali who was killed “after being hit by a police car.” While Ali’s family claimed “he was deliberately run down” by the cops, Squitieri suggested it was more likely that “the police car swerved out of control after skidding on oil poured on the road by protestors.”

HuffPo did not disclose that the author, Tom Squitieri, was “an employee of Qorvis Communications, a Washington firm that is registered to lobby for the government of Bahrain,” as Ken Silverstein discovered. Squitieri had been a reporter for USA Today until 2005, when he “resigned” over charges of plagiarism.

Creating a friendly platform for Wall Street/banker propaganda

HuffPo regularly features front-page PR by the CEO of the world’s largest bond fund, PIMCO, writing on subjects such as Greece’s debt that directly conflict with the firm’s $1.7 trillion dollars of investments it manages. PIMCO, long a major sponsor of CNBC (including Rick “Tea Party” Santelli’s show), has been criticized for the way it has exploited the media in the past to reap huge gains for wealthy bondholders. According to the New York Times, in 2008, PIMCO co-founder Bill Gross successfully “used his access to the news media to get the government’s attention” — and secure its bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac creditors, netting PIMCO $2 billion in a single day.

Promoting dangerous quacks cures

Some in the medical community have condemned the promotion of dangerous quacks by HuffPo. In 2009, a physician published an article in Salon criticizing HuffPo’s promotion of “bogus treatments and crackpot medical theories,” including curing the swine flu with deep-cleaning enemas, as well as fraudulent spiritual healing techniques and risky cancer treatments.

Science writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor Seth Mnookin wrote:  “For whatever reason, HuffPo seemed to have a particular bee in its bonnet about vaccines and autism: If you made a list of the most irresponsible, misinformed people on the topic, it was a safe bet the majority of them had been given space for their rantings on the site.” Many of these authors use Huffington Post to promote their books and services.  (Dangerous quack remedies include a “baking soda” cancer treatment invented by an Italian doctor convicted of manslaughter and fraud in Italy.)

Then there’s the issue of the “Sweat Lodge” murderer: In October 2009, three people died at a “Spirtual Warrior” fasting and sweat lodge ceremony hosted by new age wealth guru James Arthur Ray, while 18 others were hospitalized with burns, dehydration, liver and kidney damage, as well as “scorched lungs.” In 2011, Ray was convicted on three counts of negligent homicide, and sentenced to two years in prison. Huffington Post published James Ray’s blog right up until the deadly retreat incident, describing him as “a ‘World Thought Leader’ who has traveled the globe devoting over two decades to studying the thoughts, actions, and habits of those who create true wealth in every area of their life.” Ray’s bio has since been scrubbed from his HuffPo blog.


Read Arianna Huffington’s S.H.A.M.E. Profile to learn more about her history of exploitation, manipulation and media corruption. . .


Read more: , Yasha Levine, Media Whores, S.H.A.M.E.

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Add your own

  • 1. Foppe  |  July 20th, 2012 at 5:08 am

    Yasha: “HuffPo regularly features front-page PR by the CEO of the world’s largest bond fund, PIMCO, writing on subjects such as Greece’s debt that directly conflict with the firm’s $1.7 trillion dollars of investments it manages. PIMCO, long a major sponsor of CNBC (including Rick “Tea Party” Santelli’s show), has been criticized for the way it has exploited the media in the past to reap huge gains for wealthy bondholders. According to the New York Times, in 2008, PIMCO co-founder Bill Gross successfully “used his access to the news media to get the government’s attention” — and secure its bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac creditors, netting PIMCO $2 billion in a single day.”

    There’s a big PIMCO quibble in my throat, with its huge portfolio, it seems to me kind of hard to imagine that I could live without its straightforwardly long/short anything. But seriously, that whole thing about them making $2bil in a single day off gov bailout and generally being known for gaming and manipulating the bond market…well, that whole that whole thing is a big quibble in my throat. I’m speechless. Am I just a fanboy or am I actually paid to troll your comments section and redirect criticism against PIMCO to other Wall Street badboys? I don’t know, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it.

    Anyway, what I wanted to point out: Matt Taibbi wrote an article slightly over a year ago about something quite similar, though rather more subtle, going on at the NYT Dealbook section. I am curious if that charge can be made to stick; though it seems to me next to impossible to prove anything definitively, given how hard it is to tell the difference between bought and unbought neoliberal, establishment-whoring journalists, who have all been trained to “analyze” what goes on around them in the same pathetic way.
    In any case, the article itself can be found here:

  • 2. Jay  |  July 20th, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Oh no, not another PIMCO fanboy? Yes it is! How could PIMCO be bad? Bill Gross is basically a swell guy, who does yoga and says he gets his best trading ideas doing a yogic headstand pose. No insider info, he gets it straight from the one-I-God. It’s called tantric trading. He’s writing a book about it. But I “agree”, giving PIMCO some airtime amounts to what… giving air to various points of view, ? Spend a week reading their business section: it’s all Krugman, tax the rich, and Wall Street is a bunch of crooks. Totally that’s why they give the biggest bond trader in the world constant 1st place positioning on their homepage blog well. Seriously. No, double seriously. You guys need to do some yoga maybe, cleanse out your chakras and all the bad vides you have. Maybe John-Roger can help you out?

  • 3. Jedi Mind Trick  |  July 20th, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Where else am I supposed to find easily startled herds of middle aged women to offend? You should see some of the shit they’ve let me post.

  • 4. radii  |  July 20th, 2012 at 11:05 am

    HuffPo is first and foremost a platform for Arianna to self-promote … her public profile has gone from Tory supoorter to wife of U.S. congressman to conservative pundit ex-wife of gay U.S. congressman to “progressive” pundit to head of a “media empire” … mind you, this woman has a guru named John-Roger and before him a guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

  • 5. Bat-Mite  |  July 20th, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I recall Rachel Maddow regularly mentioning HuffPo on the show and even before S.H.A.M.E.’s profile I remember thinking it was weird that she’d rely so heavily on a site where most of the content read like a bad op-ed piece and the remainder consisted of links to real news sites.

  • 6. Mason C  |  July 20th, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Dig it, radii. America has been vacuuming up pseudo- and fully-religious kooks since the Mayflower landed. Arianna has thus far escaped the career hangman, but there’s still time.

  • 7. helplesscase  |  July 20th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Got through ~1 min of the “hate jolt” video on the side. God, American women don’t know how to freaking talk. Think I’m gonna find a girl who knows sign language or something.

  • 8. David Jackmanson  |  July 20th, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    If The Exiled is turning its attention to James Arthur Ray, search for “James Arthur Ray Salty Droid”. The site has been publishing dirt on MLM cartels/cults/scammers like Ray for a few years now…well worth a read.

  • 9. G  |  July 20th, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Okay, I don’t care about the HuffPo cause a new massacre bigger than any other has emerged!

    Most of the news on shooters is bullshit as are most “experts” on them and we need someone who knows what the fuck he’s talking about so Ames, if you’re out there, you know what to do!

  • 10. Foppe  |  July 21st, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Mr. I have a PIMCO quibble here again! Sure, Pimco is baaaaaad, and no doubt thriiiiiiives on inside informataaaaation (just like Buffett—that’s clue #1 that I, Mr. PIMCO Quiblle, am bottom bagger at hear). Yes, giving people like Gross more airtime/friendly outlets than they already have is not something a respectable news outlet should be doing. But otoh, I find it kind of useful that people like him have these kinds of non-paywalled outlets, because I want to know what they (and by they I mean Bill Gross) are thinking about, or /how/ they are thinking about what is going on. Or some combination. Because I want to pretend that they are my friends, my good dear old close friends that tell me their deepest inner thoughts and feelings, who open up to me.

    I guess I’ve just become too much of a Gross fanboy, but I really don’t see the difference between Gross being allowed to speak and Soros—that’s clue #2 that I’m a bonafide bottom bagger) and Buffett being allowed to do so, and I don’t really see how it specifically matters that he’s being given a spot at the HuffPo rather than elsewhere.
    Hardly like he needs the platform to make his opinions known to those who matter, as I doubt they read the HuffPo much.
    On the other hand, something I did find disturbing was how Larry Summers got a column at the FT. (See –ZZZAP! AEC doesn’t take suggestions from sad bottom baggers.)

  • 11. Punjabi From Karachi  |  July 21st, 2012 at 7:01 am

    The topping of the Rampage Record Holder….any thing much to say on this domestic massacre eXile? Summer massacres are your specialties boys.

  • 12. Foppe  |  July 21st, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Mr. Foppe, aren’t you scheduled for Mr. Gross’ toe-suck massage in 30 minutes. Make sure you drink plenty of water, you now how Mr. Gross doesn’t like it when his masseuses get dry mouth. It scratches him and irritates his toe-callouses, which are very sensitive. Keep hydrating!

  • 13. Big Gay Baby  |  July 21st, 2012 at 9:01 am

    @9. Agreed. Ames get on it! Sounds like there is a lot there. Awesome takedown of Huffpo too, Yasha, exiled is right on point of late.

  • 14. Foppe  |  July 21st, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Mr. PIMCO Quibble here again. You have once again missed my point. What point was that? Let me consult my bottom bagger troll sheet for July 21, 2012. Oh yeah, that’s to say there’s nothing wrong with PIMCO getting space to spew banker propaganda because its all about releasing the power of information on the free market and letting the free consumer make an informed choice about their free actions in this free world.

  • 15. father rhyme  |  July 21st, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    @9 @13 I’m not sure there is anything behind the Aurora shooting that Ames would care to touch. Originally I was suspicious because it happened a matter of days after Limbaugh condemned the movie as a liberal conspiracy, but all the information that’s come out since then points to a legit case of violently retarded anarchism rather than anything related to class war politics.

  • 16. Jedi Mind Trick  |  July 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 am

    exiled is supposed to respond to a mass murderer?

  • 17. disgracer  |  July 22nd, 2012 at 11:11 am

  • 18. Punjabi From Karachi  |  July 22nd, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Considering what a miserable bunch you social sciences ex-holes are, I’m thinking of making a warning for children: study math and science, and make sure you get good at it, otherwise you’ll end a writer and fan of the eXile.

  • 19. Trevor  |  July 23rd, 2012 at 7:13 am

    I really wish Philip K. Dick hadn’t been so right about the future…

  • 20. iSockpuppet  |  July 23rd, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    The future is overrated

  • 21. Flatulissimo  |  July 26th, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    On the last S.H.A.M.E. project post, folks were suggesting Jon Stewart would be a good candidate for y’all to tackle. Too bad, looks like the new issue of The Baffler got there first:

    Pretty good, except for the paragraph praising South Park. Well, you can’t have everything…

  • 22. rick  |  July 26th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    All the points in this article seem valid and well-articulated, but it should probably be more brilliantly vicious or something. It’s not having fun with the material, like the best eXile stuff always did. I’m switched off and disinterested in everything, so don’t take it personally.

    Okay, so to be “constructive”: you are dealing with fundamentally pathetic individuals (writers and media people, in this series) lamely groping for sustenance and riches, forced to become borderline hypocrites by groveling to monied interests while being ostensibly transgressive–this image of the loathsome human, anthropologically, is frankly more interesting to me than the real world consequences and politics of their actions. “Look at the rats’ pitiful mammalian feeding cycle” is what I enjoy–though I probably don’t speak for many.

  • 23. Nyerd  |  July 30th, 2012 at 12:17 pm


    SHAME isn’t too late on this. Stewart may be even dirtier than the Baffler’s article suggests. If they can get their hands on the behind the scenes conversations between Network execs and producers – the stuff that sets the tone and dialog like Moody at Fox News, I think SHAME would have a huge hit on their hands. I personally want to see Stewart face real criticism and see how he would react On Air, in his studio before his audience.

    And yes, you are right about that South Park praise, that was gross and way off the mark.

  • 24. Nyerd  |  July 30th, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Also, good work on the huffpo expose. I knew she was a thief, but I never knew that she was a crazy cultist bent on media domination/EATING SOULS.

  • 25. Jess  |  July 31st, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I was about to make a comment about holistic medicines, but unfortunately they’ve made my brain so retarded that I can’t remember what I wanted to say. Something about how bad Western medicine is? Hold on while I go find my ginko bilobo

  • 26. Bruno Ribeiro  |  August 1st, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Well, what can we say after reading this recent post on HuffPost

  • 27. phil strawman  |  August 2nd, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    I did not realize there is ‘sponsor-generated-content’ on Huffpit, and was lost in another direction: I thought J.A. was doing his moonlighting’s litle assignment in the corporate setting of his main job(!).Things become clearer now.

  • 28. kashulopi  |  August 6th, 2012 at 1:16 am

    I don’t care if Asma’s prefs for dictators or whatever. I’d take her any day over Hillary or her wife/whatever bama ( or her wife the one that looks like a horse grinning – that thought just made my stomach invert like somekinda diseased starfish sitting down on a clam. ) Yash, I wouldn’t be giving such hand to those alciada mercs — their second order of business will be to go after bitches here, ( you know like they’ve done stuff in Philly already not too long ago) – when they come here to spend their paychecks on R&R and shore leave

  • 29. Jay  |  August 13th, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Maybe those who are driven to despair by S.H.A.M.E. should outsource their anonymous comments to the HuffPost bloggers

  • 30. Emerson Bigguns  |  August 26th, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I loathe that opportunistic creature Ariana, the one better refereed to as the Greek Whoracle.

    She is as vapid and spineless and for hire as the Romney’s and I long for the day she’s curb stomped into history’s dustbin.

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