Huffington Post And The View From Bogustan: Standing Behind Blatantly False Claims Isn't Journalism
from the what's-wrong-with-people-over-there dept
Over the last week, we’ve been debunking a bizarre “series” of stories over at Huffington Post, which is claiming to be about “the history of email” but is not. It’s about a guy, Shiva Ayyadurai, who may have written an implementation of email in the late 1970s, but which was clearly well after email was in widespread use. Ayyadurai’s actual program (and as far as I can tell, he has not released any screenshots of what the program actually looked like) may have worked well for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) where he wrote it as a 14-year-old, but it contributed nothing to the future of email. Beyond email existing in various forms long before that, nothing that happened later in the email space appears to have happened because of Ayyadurai’s program. Each of the advancements in email came from elsewhere, with no indication that anyone anywhere was even aware of what Ayyadurai had done in New Jersey.
Ayyadurai has waged an incredibly bizarre public relations campaign, and the more you look at it, the more bizarre it becomes. However, anyone who looks over any of the primary documentation (much of which we’ve linked to in our previous posts) can only conclude that while Ayyadurai may have independently come up with some ideas, he most certainly did not invent email. It was widely in use. The key arguments in his claim are obviously false, and prey on (1) a misunderstanding or misrepresetation of copyright law and (2) an almost fraudulent misquoting of Dave Crocker, a guy who really was heavily involved in early email efforts. Again, all of that is discussed in the earlier posts.
What I still cannot fathom is how the Huffington Post can stand behind this “reporting.” I’ve now heard from three different HuffPost reporters on the news side who all say that they’re horrified that no one at the company has done anything about this. The only official response I got stood by the stories, but actual reporters at the company recognize that their own credibility has been absolutely destroyed by this. It’s been pointed out that the five part series is on HuffPo’s “blogging” side — which gives a platform to PR folks with no editorial oversight.
But, because HuffPo does little to separate out its “news” division from those open “blogs,” the blogs get filed with all sorts of clearly bogus crap. Much of it gets totally ignored, but some (apparently including PR “guru” Larry Weber and his business partner Shiva Ayyadurai) are willing to exploit the fact that no one recognizes the blogging platform has no editorial review, to pretend that a “reputable source” has “confirmed” the story. Ayyadurai himself keeps pointing to the HuffPo stories as some sort of “vindication” (while hilarious suggesting that I’m being paid off by Raytheon…). He leaves out that these are all blog posts by his friends and partners, put up on the site with no editorial review. Again: every serious look into the history has found that he is not the inventor of email.
And that’s why it’s so damaging to the good reporting that some actual HuffPo reporters do, to find out that the company won’t retract and renounce this series as a PR campaign for a series of blatantly fraudulent claims — obvious to anyone who looks at the documentation. Even worse, however, is the fact that part of the HuffPo journalism side — HuffPo Live — picked up on the completely bogus campaign and did a whole fawning interview with Ayyadurai, never once presenting the evidence that he’s fraudulently misrepresenting basic facts. And, contrary to the claims from Huffington Post’s PR people, the HuffPo Live articles, written by Emily Tess Katz, do not have any “clarification” — bogus or not.
I’ve now asked the author of the HuffPo live stories, Emily Tess Katz, multiple times if she still stands by this story, and she has refused to respond. Journalistic integrity! According to one report, she had said she stood by it, and then deleted the tweet.
We’ve talked in the past about the concept of “he said/she said” journalism — what Journalism Professor Jay Rosen likes to call “the view from nowhere” — in which journalists feel (incorrectly) that “being objective” means giving “both sides equal weight and letting the reader decide.” That’s bad. Journalism should be about the search for truth.
The thing that’s truly baffling here isn’t that HuffPo and HuffPo Live are doing “the view from nowhere,” but that they’re actually actively promoting a lie. It’s the view from Bogustan. Rather than promoting the truth or presenting false balance, Huffington Post is actively claiming that a clearly false story is true — and when presented with reams of evidence on that front, it appears that the company is simply throwing up its hands and hoping the whole story just blows over. Beyond the reporter, I’ve emailed Huffington Post PR people, and they, too, are now refusing to comment. Meanwhile, some of the company’s very good reporters are hanging their heads in shame.
My suggestion: perhaps it’s time to start looking for a publication to work for that actually takes journalistic integrity seriously.