Audit Notes: HuffPost terrible on Hastings, Fox touts, Advance PR

Terrible news judgment adds fuel to conspiracy theories about the journalist's death

The Huffington Post publishes a deeply irresponsible story on the death of the journalist Michael Hastings with this headline:

Was Michael Hastings’ Car Hacked? Richard Clarke Says It’s Possible

Here’s what former Clinton/Bush counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke said:

“What has been revealed as a result of some research at universities is that it’s relatively easy to hack your way into the control system of a car, and to do such things as cause acceleration when the driver doesn’t want acceleration, to throw on the brakes when the driver doesn’t want the brakes on, to launch an air bag,” Clarke told The Huffington Post. “You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it’s not that hard.”

“So if there were a cyber attack on the car — and I’m not saying there was,” Clarke added, “I think whoever did it would probably get away with it.”

And so I ask: Is The Huffington Post a terrorist organization? It’s possible. I mean, I’m not saying it is or anything and I don’t have any evidence whatsoever.

But I bet I could find some expert to say it’s theoretically possible the HuffPost is Al Qaeda of Chelsea and then slap a question mark on a headline and feed a wild conspiracy theory.

— Last week, MarketWatch busted a Fox Business contributor for taking big bucks to tout shady penny stocks. This week, Media Matters finds another Fox contributor doing the same:

Charles Payne, a contributor and frequent guest host for Fox News and Fox Business, was compensated to promote the stocks of at least three companies since joining Fox. The practice of compensated stock endorsements is currently prohibited by Fox rules, and resulted in the recent contract termination of contributor Tobin Smith.

According to a Media Matters review, Payne was paid $40,000 to promote The Brainy Brands Company, “$25,000 by a third party” to promote NXT Nutritionals Holdings, and an undisclosed amount for a “consulting arrangement” to promote Generex Biotechnology Corporate.

The share prices of the companies Payne was paid to tout are now essentially worthless.

It’s no accident that these people work for Fox and not, say, CNN. This is the same network that employed Glenn “Goldline” Beck after all.

If you’re looking to hire talking heads to snooker old, paranoid, easily fooled people, Fox is the place to go.

Oregonian publisher N. Christian Anderson wrote this on Sunday after laying off roughly a quarter of the newsroom (emphasis mine):

In creating the new Oregonian Media Group, we made certain that we will have at least the same number of journalists creating content as we have at The Oregonian today. Peter Bhatia, our editor, told his staff Thursday that as we have about 90 reporters now, we will have 90 reporters on October 1. Some of our content staff will be new, replacing some well-known names and faces that will be leaving us sometime this summer. Behind the scenes, in other departments, some long-term employees are leaving as well. As difficult as these decisions were — and I watched my colleagues in anguish at times over them — they were critical to positioning the company for the future.

But it will have far fewer editors and the like, which means the quality of the average piece of news will drop.

I had been thinking that Advance’s people had been getting a bit better at PR. And then I read this sentence:

We had sad faces as we notified employees who were being let go. We made a commitment to treat them compassionately and to provide a good financial severance package as well as outplacement services. As you can imagine, those conversations were difficult and not without emotion. Still, as I write this late Friday, I think we have done a pretty good job of that.

And Anderson started his layoff/print cuts email last week with this sentence, “Today we are unveiling exciting plans for the future of our company.”

No word on what N. Christian Anderson brings home every year. But it’s worth noting that Howard Bronson, publisher of Advance’s much-smaller Mobile Press-Register, was bringing down $750,000 a year back in 2009.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,