When blogger Mayhill Fowler quoted Barack Obama and Bill Clinton saying things they never would have said had they known they'd be quoted on the record, her editors at the Huffington Post couldn't have been more pleased. But when she pulled a Mayhill Fowler on those same editors, they were considerably less delighted.
Fowler, the citizen journalist whose on-the-scene reporting resulted in what was immediately termed "Bittergate," has left Huffpo, saying she's no longer willing to blog for free. In her farewell post, Fowler scorched some earth, calling Arianna Huffington "the quintessential opportunist" who treats her non-famous writers as disposable, and suggesting that Huffington's claims to be building an online "community" are just so much hot air.
Huffpo quickly struck back. A spokesman debunked Fowler's "resignation" -- "How do you resign from a job you never had?" -- and accused her of being the real opportunist. "At the end of the day, Mayhill Fowler asked for a paid position; we chose not to offer her one," he wrote. " [S]he is trying to turn that rejection into something that exemplifies a fault line between new media practices and traditional media practices. Hardly."
Golden Parachute of Publicity
Of course Fowler is trying to make her departure into a big fat deal. Huffington has always said that she pays her non-professional bloggers in visibility rather than dollars. Fowler is, in essence, just trying to maximize her golden parachute of publicity.
But the funniest part of this back-and-forth is how put out Huffpo was by Fowler's decision to print her email exchange with her editor, Roy Sekoff. Even though Sekoff didn't say anything especially embarrassing, Huffpo's spokesman felt the need to admonish Fowler publicly -- perhaps as a warning to other Huffpo bloggers who might someday be tempted to do the same? "[I]n the future, she should refrain from publishing private emails with her editors without their permission," he wrote. "This happens to be both an old media and a new media ground rule."
I am reminded of Dennis Kneale lecturing The Daily Beast's Peter Lauria for his rudeness in publishing an incriminating voicemail left by Sumner Redstone. In this case, however, there's an added layer of hypocrisy, Huffpo having been only too happy to benefit from Fowler's disregard for journalistic niceties -- such as the time she hid a recorder in her cleavage while talking to Clinton. Not so fun to be on the other end, is it?