This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
In defense of Arianna Huffington. Not that the lady needs one, having been a leader in undermining the right-wing dominance of Internet reporting. Defenders of a free press should be thrilled that it is Huffington who is now merging with AOL rather than Matt Drudge, the unrivaled leader of Internet news, whom I first met at Arianna’s home when she was cozier with the right.
But a defense is salutary now because too many progressives, including Chris Hedges on Truthdig, which I edit, have made Huffington a symbol of the crisis in American journalism. While I still believe that Hedges is the finest journalist working in this country today and have no intention of ever censoring him, I do believe that he and the other critics of Huffington have missed the point.
First off, and in defense of the use of unpaid bloggers, of which I happen to be one among the many who appear on a regular basis on the Huffington Post, we are not exploited. Blogging has opened up the traditional channels of reporting to include informed people with scholarly and experiential credibility who formerly were begging for the rare opportunity to appear on the carefully preserved op-ed plantation of leading newspapers. For most contributors, the op-ed page was never a serious source of income.
I occupied a privileged, if modestly paid, weekly place at the Los Angeles Times plantation for thirteen years until a publisher upset with my views on the Iraq War and media concentration summarily ended it. The greed that telecommunication deregulation unleashed within the Times’s parent corporation, Tribune, eventually landed the newspaper in bankruptcy, but that is another story. Arianna picked up my column the instant it appeared with the launch of Truthdig and has prominently displayed it on the Huffington Post for more than five years, even when she told me she disagreed with what I wrote.
That exact approach was used in the deal we at Truthdig made with Hedges when he was pushed out of the New York Times after a most distinguished career (including winning a team Pulitzer Prize) because, in his case too, he spoke the truth about the Iraq War; in both instances the freedom of the writer, more important than a paycheck, was held sacred.
As for paychecks, I am not an expert on the finances of the Huffington Post, any more than are the critics whom I have read, but I do know that staffers and writers who joined the website after I recommended them are most definitely paid. One of them, Shahien Nasiripour, who went to HuffPo after leaving the Center for Investigative Reporting, has done superior reporting on the banking industry, beating his mainstream competition in a number of instances. This was reported to me by my wife, a former masthead journalist at both the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, while she was doing research for a recent Ms. Magazine story on Elizabeth Warren.