HuffPo a Stripper Wearing Reading Glasses?

One of the glories of the digital age—at least for those who wish Elizabeth Taylor had have been able to respond to rumors in 140 characters or less back in the day—is that celebs can quickly denounce reports fabricated by the gossip rags or their sources. It’s truly a golden age when Lindsay can pithily correct the record on something dad or mom’s been saying about her in the blogosphere. And a golden-er age when they can respond in equally speedy and pithy turn.

Yesterday, “Bigger Than My Body” singer John Mayer attacked the Huffington Post after it ran a story titled “John Mayer and Jennifer Aniston BACK TOGETHER?” [their caps, if you were wondering]. On a blog post headed “Huffington Post FULL OF SHIT? (Yes!)”, Mayer invited his readers to “watch the site’s intelligence move in and out like bellows of accordion depending on whether or not there’s ad dollars to be sucked out of any willing orifice.”

Ugh, writers.

The Huffington Post story was built on a quote from an L.A. concert reported by a U.K. tabloid and overheard by a HuffPo writer on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show.

“I believe in second chances!” he said, reports the Express. “You might have been a pain in the ass the last time around, but you can still start over again from home base. Next time you get a text from the one you love just text back ‘come over’ - no matter what happened in the past. If you really love someone, just tell them and be with them.”

A woman who resembled Aniston was rumored to be in the wings while Mayer performed, though her rep has not verified she was there.

“He keeps looking, smiling, smirking and winking at her—especially during ‘I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You,’” someone emailed E! News during the show.

Pretty standard People-US-Page Six stuff. But according to Mayer, the HuffPo should know beter.

Huffington Post, this is reporting? How do you pay your writers now, in Silly Bandz? Do you meet your sources in a malt shoppe? This is equal parts fabricated, cobbled together and misleading.

He then goes on to say:

The reason I’m calling you out instead of all the other magazines that make stories up out of thin air is that In Touch and Star Magazine aren’t concurrently writing pieces about Pat Tillman or WikiLeaks. Those other rags know who they are, and even if they’re obnoxious, I’d rather have to live with them because they (and the rest of the world) know where they stand, which doesn’t make them one tenth as dangerous as you are. You’re a stripper wearing reading glasses. Or maybe you’re an insolvent law student willing to dance for a few extra dollars. Either way, it’s uncomfortable to watch you try to wrap yourself around a pole when you have that C-Span scar.

Mayer’s labored metaphor makes an interesting journalistic point. Today, the HuffPo is leading with an AP report on Obama’s upcoming Iraq speech, reports on the economy, and other heavy stuff. Some great reporters call it home, including Arthur Delaney, who writes on the economy, and whom we interviewed here. But in the site’s entertainment section, you’ll find the following headlines today: “Karissa Shannon: Heidi Montag and I Made a Sex Tape,” “Spencer Had to Pull Down Heidi’s Pants So She Could Go To The Bathroom.” And if you’re interested, there’s a video of Miley Cyrus getting “Spanked By Her Mom.” The stories, like the Mayer/Aniston one, are mainly sourced, unchecked, from other gossip mags and sites; “reporting” that would not stand on the site’s business and politics pages.

The dichotomy raises a couple of questions. Does the site have a different standard for political and entertainment pieces? (It would appear so!) Should a site, be it a series of blogs or something more sharply curated, ever have different standards for its different sections? This is a move away from the newspaper model. And should readers come to a site like HuffPo with different expectations as we click through its different sections? Don’t we already have to do enough work just to adjust our eyes to its three-column boxy sprawl?

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.