It’s Not Nice to Fool Fred Friendly - or Someone Playing Him in a Movie

As long as the ends justify the means, and Arianna Huffington gets some free publicity out of the deal, all's well in her backslapping celebrity blog bubble.

The Arianna Huffington / George Clooney blog flap is still alive and simmering, mainly because of Huffington’s post of yesterday, in which she remained unapologetic about “repackaging” a series of quotes Clooney gave during interviews with the Guardian of London and Larry King of CNN, and then presenting them as a blog post that Clooney purportedly wrote for The Huffington Post.

A little background: When Clooney saw a blog post under his byline on Huff Post — a piece he did not write — he, not surprisingly, hit the roof. In turn, Huffington, who knows more than a little bit about chutzpah, used the situation to crow about the power of the Internet. She notes that Clooney’s remarks drew little attention when first published in print and spoken on cable TV, but caused a blogstorm after she or someone (or several someones) on her staff repurposed them in blog form. “Is the blogosphere powerful or what?” asks Arianna, in a unique twist on blog triumphalism. Well sure, but power to what end? Huffington’s little stunt struck us and others, including most of those who commented at her site, as smarmy, disingenuous and a willful deception. (And these are her fans.)

On this one, we’re with Vaughn Ververs, who writes on CBS’s Public Eye that “If you replaced the words ‘Huffington Report’ with ‘The New York Times’ or any other MSM organization in context of the George Clooney flap of the last couple days, Arianna Huffington would be leading the charge to skewer and denounce that entity.”

But Huffington doesn’t care, especially when there are some PR points to be wrung from the situation. She’s still contending that taking Clooney’s words spoken to reporters elsewhere and stringing them together as a blog post under Clooney’s byline is justified — and still gloating that “when the same words and ideas were repackaged in the form of a blog, they were suddenly exposed to a new audience, infused with a new currency — and exploded into the public eye.”

It seems to escape her that a big part of the explosion was indignation that the words she published were not what they were presented as: the written, considered thoughts of George Clooney, as opposed to a series of answers he gave others during several interviews. Her defense: “Who cares if the ideas were first expressed in a book, a speech, a play, or an interview? The medium isn’t the message; the message is the message. With the right medium providing the needed amplification.”

That’s a resort to an ethic of strict utility, a declaration that the end is all that matters, and to hell with the means. But means do matter, as she should know by now, and the medium is an important part of that.

Although we believe her when she says she thought she had the “OK” from Clooney’s people to post a collection of his quotes gussied up as a blog post, the fact that she didn’t feel the need to label it as such, as Ververs noted, is something she would rip into another publication for doing.

Our guess? As long as the ends justify the means, and Arianna gets some free publicity out of the deal, all’s well in her backslapping celebrity blog bubble.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.