The Huffington Post Implodes

Censureship and Impaired Integrity at The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post, one of the most widely read, politically influential websites, banned one of its writers after he discovered that a seemingly anonymous person who was posting critical comments to his articles was actually The Post’s technology manager. In a Huffington Post posting, Peter Rost, M.D., exposed the identity of the heckler, known as a “troll” in the world of bloggers, which prompted The Post to temporarily block his access.

He has recounted the incident of on-line censorship on a new blog site he created, separate from the one co-founded by journalist Arianna Huffington:

This is a sad day for online journalism. I was terminated without any investigation of the statements in my article, all of which were referenced using independent sources. I presented facts and made no allegations. Arianna Huffington’s newspaper decided to shut down the whistleblower and proved that her online magazine is no more ethical than the people and organisations she criticises on a daily basis.

Dr. Rost, a former vice-president of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, became suspicious after his articles were persistently attacked by a poster called yacomink. One comment by yacomink that scoffed at the quality of his writing, “This thing reads like a sixth grader’s first attempt at a research paper,” was mysteriosly voted a “readers’ favorite comment” within a half-hour of its posting, the speed of which aroused Dr. Rost’s suspicions.

Dr. Rost had been writing at The Huffington Postfor about three months and written over 60 articles. He was also suspicious of the incident because, out of 1,278 responses, only 18 comments had ever been popular enough to be voted a “readers’ favorite”. He foundyacomink’s IP address and, after a further search, found a web page for Andy Yaco-Mink that included the following: “Andy Yaco-Mink is The Huffington Post’s technology manager. He lives in Brooklyn.” Dr. Rost wrote a Huffington Post reply that exposed Andy Yaco-Mink as the troll, suggesting that he had manipulated The Post’s systems in order to get his comments rated as one of the readers’ favorite comments. He wrote: “In order for The Huffington Post to maintain its credibility, the site needs to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest or rigged rankings.

This prompted the Post to censure him and ban his access to the website in order to write any further articles. “You have not been ‘fired’ but rather asked to refrain from posting as our editorial staff felt that your recent blogs were not in line with the mission of our site,” The Huffington Post wrote in a letter to Dr. Rost. “This was not an Arianna call. Ultimately, the decision was an editorial one, not one person to be held responsible….,” concluded the letter. Dr. Rost was later reinstated to The Huffington Post (click here to read his blog). However, readers should certainly visit that blog to see the other strange things that happened or were done to to him after exposing the manipulations going on at the Post.

This peculiar incident involving Dr. Rost has come very shortly after a Huffington Post controversy involving forgery, when The Post was forced to admit faking an article alleged to have been written by actor George Clooney. The Oscar-winner Clooney forced Huffington to retract the article that had been deceitfully published as his own work, when his comments actually had been “lifted” from other interviews. Clooney released a statement calling Huffington’s methods “purposefully misleading,” and she then admitted that his “so-called article” was in fact comprised of nothing but compilations from recent interviews by Clooney with The Guardian and CNN’s Larry King Live.

A Postmortem on Viswanathan’s Opal Mehta: Wolves Circle for the Final Kill

Shame on Her, Shame on Us, Shame on All of Us

Last week, on a widely-read writers’ blog, I published this brief discussion during the media’s histrionic and wildly inflamed coverage of the emerging revelations about Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism in her first book, Opal Mehta:

“Is it hard work being a poser?” One commentator has pointed out that this is the taunting question that one high-society classmate asks Opal Mehta near the conclusion of Kaavya’s first novel, a book for teenagers. And this is the very question that has come back to contemptuously haunt Viswanathan herself.

[A critic] recently has published a very interesting and well-written article that compares the seriousness of her offense with the exaggerated fabrications contained in James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Unfortunately, the comparison seems to be based upon demonstrating that plagiarism and imaginative fictionalizing are not the same thing. Most readers might respond that this difference needs little explanation; it is self-evident.

Another issue that [critic] brings up in his comparison of the two works is the question of literary worth. Again, the issue begs the point: it is generally acknowledged that romanticized novels for teenagers are by their nature characterized by a lack of literary merit or value.

For me, the simpler, but far more important point is that long-term memory is highly inaccurate. Some have wondered whether the plagiarism could be accounted for by the phenomenon known as cryptomnesia, the unknowing appropriation of what one has read as part of one’s own thinking? Experimental psychology has provided some evidence for instances of this. But to claim that such out-of awareness influences could account for the now many more than forty instances of similar or exact replications is simply not believable.

It is the very accuracy of Ms. Viswanathan’s copying that gave lie to her initial attempts to explain away what she had done.

Some days later, however, my attention now has turned to another deplorable aspect of the plagiarism controversy, this time focusing upon the harrowing behavior of the critics themselves. Our present electronic technology, along with the incessant and often ruthless social interaction that it has enabled in the digital age, has driven the interest in this controversy into a state of uncontrolled mania.

In today’s climate on the Internet, critical examinations of literary works have become a form of mob rule, fueled by a feverish global beehive, pulsating everywhere at once. And if an issue is interesting enough to serve as a forum to give blogger-critics their own “fifteen minutes of fame,” it can incite a frenzied horde of amateur analysts, each with a world-wide publishing medium in the living room and what appears to be unbounded amounts of free-time. The expressions that ensue are typically characterized as the unbridled release of personal narcissism.

It has turned into a frightening incarnation of mob rule, fueled by a sense of blood lust. The amateur critics as “petty gadflies” (as one writer has called them) have become a pack of wolves all smelling blood, circling for the final kill. Suddenly, not to excuse Viswanathan’s blatant act of plagiarism, this mob-like tyranny has become more dreadful and loathsome that the original act itself.

As a monumental testament to sick and perverted dark humor, the on-line peddlers of “The MehtaMorphasis Award” ( were offering $75 (not exactly the size of a Nobel Prize) for the most eloquently crafted moral to a week of charged debate surrounding the frothy, ephemeral novel.

Among the submissions were:

The controversy may deservedly be far more interesting than the story itself.

I might agree, but with the caveat that the far more compelling aspect of the controversy is how easily it can be to forget our sense of humanity, instead either joining or implicitly condoning the mentality of mob rule with the aim of fatally attacking its target. In this sense, the controversy is compelling because of the tacit acceptance of totalitarianism that the critics’ frenzied excitement seems to display.

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