Is it Clooney or is it Memorex?

A couple of reporters asked for reaction to l’affairianna Huffington, in which the Huffingtonpost pasted together George Clooney quotes and posted them as if he’d blogged it himself, reputedly with his flack’s OK. I’m embarrasased that I’m behind posting something here. So here’s what I said to one of them:

I find it amusing and tragic. It’s amusing that anyone would think of having ghost writers for blogs — which are, by their essence and definition, personal. How Hollywood can this go: ‘I’ll have my person link to your person’? And it’s tragic that we’re so addicted to celebrity that anyone would go so far as to manufacture the voice and views of a star just because he is a star. Surely we have learned that people’s opinions don’t get smarter when they get famous — quite to the contrary. Huffington was wrong to try to create a faked-up post under Clooney’s name — and wrong to want to. This now affects the credibility of all the stars who post there. They need to guarantee now that all the views of the famous there, no matter how amazing, are written by them: No bionic opinions allowed. If you don’t care enough to write a simple blog post, then you don’t care enough.

I’m not sure what Huffington’s motivation was. It could be business: The site hung its hat and drew its traffic on the idea of getting the famous to blog. Perhaps this is the blog equivalent of trumping up a story just to get a star’s face on a magazine cover to sell copies. I’ll confess I saw that happen when I worked at People magazine. Or it could be ideology: They were so desperate to pile on to Bush on the war that they decided to fabricate a post. In either case, it was a mistake.

Contrast this with what was heralded as the British HuffingtonPost: The Guardian’s Comment is Free (where, full disclosure, I’ve been commenting… for free). They went out and recruited 200 people to post because they’re smart and not necessarily famous. I don’t see Kate Moss writing about Iraq policy there.

: I see that Arianna has more comment on the Clooney comment and she is the unrepentent Dr. Frankenstein of celebrity blog posts. I think that’s a mistake.

First, amusingly, she argues that the attention Clooney’s opinions got is testament to the power of the blogosphere. I’m a blog triumphalist with the most obnoxious of them, but I won’t buy that. It was the scandal of the artificial post that got attention, not the opinions therein. Arianna writes:

First of all, is the blogosphere powerful or what? As has been endlessly noted, the Clooney blog was drawn from answers he had given in interviews with the Guardian and on Larry King.
Neither of which garnered much, if any, reaction.

But 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, drawing an overwhelmingly positive response and provoking a great deal of valuable discussion.

It was a testament to the power of blogging, and it’s why I remain, despite the dustup, an unrepentant evangelist for the value of bringing to the blogosphere some of the most interesting voices of our time that are not already there.

Sorry but it’s a testament to the power of the gotcha: This is Bloggate.

She continues to justify the practice of stitching together stars’ posts.

So while this is definitely the last time I’ll rely on an okay-to-publish from a publicist, it most assuredly won’t be the last time I’ll recruit for the blogosphere and try to get the uninitiated to blog. Even folks who don’t know a hyperlink from a permalink or who need a Blogging 101 tutorial and a lot of hand-holding in the process.

But, some have asked, is a blog still a blog if it contains repurposed material? My answer is: absolutely. 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.

I couldn’t disagree more. I believe this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the medium: Blogs are people and the blogosphere is a conversation. If you’re not really writing your blog, if you’re having or allowing someone to do it for you, then you’re gaming me, lying to me, insulting me. In this little drama, we are Roxannes, Clooney is the dashing Christian de Neuvileette, and Arianna is Cyrano de Bergerac … or perhaps Pinocchio. The highest virtue of citizens’ media and the open age is transparency and this was not an act of transparency. I urge you, Arianna, to recant and set a new policy: Tell me who wrote what I read.

This also displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the tools and grammar of the medium. Arianna says that it’s Clooney’s opinions that matter and she quotes, again what he said in The Guardian. Well, Arianna, if you think what he said was worth recommending, the world wide web created a very simple and elegant means to do that: the link.

: I posted this on Comment is Free.

  • http://ruthcalvo Ruth

    This ‘blog’ would have been fine if Clooney had approved it, and as you say, Jeff, ‘Blogs are people and the blogosphere is a conversation. ‘ What Clooney wanted to use to start the conversation should have been his own. Hopefully, unlike WH staff who do wrong things, the perpetrators will be out looking for new worlds to conquer. What I want to say to others is my own choice, and what you want to say is yours. I would not mind responding to something a person had said, but would be embarrassed to have started a conversation with anyone on false premises.

  • Mike G

    I think you’re right, that this is the importation of celeb magazine values into the blogosphere. I happened to notice the new issue of Vanity Fair the other day– the one with Teri Hatcher’s revelations of having been sexually abused. So of course the cover shows her half-naked but coyly concealing her charms, come on big boy, read all about my rape, violate me by ripping the magazine open. Classy. That’s what Arianna is bringing the blogosphere, that kind of thinking. Great.

  • Wise One

    Per the latin phrase”sock et tuum” good going. bBogging is person to person. No hired key hitters. No publicists. No fakers. Honest words only.

  • http://dylko.blogspot.com Ivan Dylko

    It seems like HuffingtonPost is going to lose a lot of readers because of this. People come to blogosphere to find frank, transparent, open, and personal information and opinions. Credibility here matters more than anywhere else, because blogs compete with thousands of other blogs, unlike local newspaper. It’s surprising that such a successful and popular blogger as Huffington doesn’t get it. Or maybe she doesn’t get it because success and popularity of her blog obscured the principles blogosphere operates upon…

    Along with “wal-mart pr bloggers,” this one is the second recent blow to reputation of the entire blogosphere. Hopefully, it won’t become a regular news that blogs aren’t as trustworthy as they are deemed to be.

  • Dean Tomasula

    Ms. Huffington is doing a disservice to all bloggers by going for the star power of someone like Mr. Clooney is such a disingenuous way. If you want Mr. Clooney to write for your blog, ask him. He’s an articulate guy, I’m sure he can string a few sentences together.

    What Ms. Huffington has done is akin to writing an “exclusive” news story by stringing together quotes from previously published news stories. It’s unethical.

    The fact that Mr. Clooney or his publicist did or did not give permission to use his words is not the point. The point is that his words were packaged as a blog written by Mr. Clooney. It was not written by him. That’s deception, plain and simple.

    Shame on you Ms. Huffington for lowering your ethical standards and painting all bloggers with that brush.

  • http://www.newforth.com Robert Hoffer

    How naive to imagine this wouldn’t be the ultimate path of the “bloggosphere.” I’ve often heard it quoted that 1% of people create content for the other 99% – I wonder how many people want to create but lack the talent. For that talentless majority there are ghostwriters. Ghostblogging I’m afraid is here to stay.

  • http://www.atamira.com MediaDavid

    how many times do we have to go over the same territory??
    this is so basically and blatantly dishonest that I can’t believe we’re even having an argument.
    think for a second how silly the Huffandpuff posting would have looked if it had said..these are quotes taken out of context and put together so you would think George Clooney took the time to blog here.

    Just admit you made a mistake AH and move on.
    Oh, I forgot. this creates buzz. nevermind.

  • John

    Arianna’s love of both celebrity culture and the spotlight, along with a built-in disdain for the plebians out in the audience, led to this debacle. She advertised the blog originally as a place where the famous would deliver their bon mots to the world, while at the same time she sees “George Clooney” as something of a brand name whose word the rabble are dying to hear, as opposed to an actual person who creates his own words in real time.

    Huffington is against the war, and she knows Clooney is against the war, so she saw no problem in putting together a bunch of George’s statements to issue to the website’s readers, and didn’t think Clooney would have any objections, either. It just shows Arianna’s lack of respect for her perceived lessers (basically everyone who’s not famous), but considering she was a staunch conservative Republican a decade ago and only switched to the Democrats because she discovered she coldn’t become the GOP’s Hillary Clinton by using Michael’s political career and then his divorce settlement money, an opportunistic stunt like this using Clooney’s name shouldn’t be any surprise.

  • http://huffpo.com saywot

    Are you done now Mr. Exaggerating Crybaby? Bravo, you’ve ridiculously trashed the Huffington Post in the most overblown manner possible so you could continue tooting the tuba of the Guardian’s entry to the competition. Keep skipping through the playground, fa la la la…honk.

  • http://www.atamira.com MediaDavid

    Saywot>>>>
    Putting aside whether you like Mr. Jarvis or not, are you defending Ms. Huffington and her lack of full disclosure?
    Do you think it was a good thing, even if you take Huffington at her word, to write a compilation of quotes up as a suggested blog and then print it as if Clooney wrote it to you?

    That’s a bit odd in my book

  • http://www.drcookie.blogspot.com JennyD

    Jeff, here’s a case of TV news reporters taking canned stories and putting their own names on them.

    http://www.gradethenews.org/2006/copying.htm

    It’s exactly what Huffington did, and it appears that it happens in journalistic outfits with some regularity.

    I think the Clooney article fakery is really low, and that Huffington will lose readers. She’s already lost credibility. Rightly so. And this other story I linked to helps demonstrated why people don’t trust journalistic outfits either.

  • topsecretk9

    Not that I am a huge fan of Clooney’s, but in reading the articles it seems to me that Clooney was unaware of what a “blog post” was and she requested to send an “example” of what a blog post would look like, and his people said okay –to the IDEA.—she ran with that as a twisted OK to print, so to speak.

    Not surprised one bit. Agree with everything Jeff says–you don’t get smarter when you get famous, a famous person gets you noticed and by proxy more popular, there is handy dandy thing called a “link”

    But what really gets me is Arrianna’s natural tendency to step into something and proclaim herself “leader and expert”, meanwhile every other post of hers is whining about some media types arcane mistake.

    Like I said above, Clooney’s people were okay-ing the “future participation” of a blog post, and arrogant Arrianna did it her way.

    Wonder how many Puff Hosters come out of the closet on Ari now?

  • http://www.vastwasteland.blogspot.com/ Chris Barsanti

    Lest we forget, Arianna’s contributions to the celeblogosphere has resulted in David Mamet’s inane pencil-napkin doodlings, as well as the political views of Jack Klugman. At its best, HuffPost works as a decent Drudge Report for the left, providing a constant stream of woe and sensationalism — Did you see what the Republicans are doing now??!! — but anyone who thinks of it as anything approaching journalism is sadly mistaken.

    Even by those low standards, however, faking Clooney’s authorship of a blog post is just irredeemably trashy and sad. Are we this desperate to see celebrities’ names on something? It’s like something Tina Brown would have done had she ever been given a blog (PLEASE – nobody give her a blog…).

  • http://huffpo.com saywot

    You knuckleheads have it all wrong. Providing a “link” is sooooo web 1.0 – get your heads out of the viral stone age. We live in an age of distributed and re-purposed content. This is web 2.0! This “controversy” is no different than bloggers stealing SNL’s videos and posting them to play on their own site when NBC clearly has a page anyone can “link” to. It seems simple, but it’s oh so more complicated than that, my web 1.0 friends. Nuh-uh, links are not good enough in today’s online world where NO ONE TRULY OWNS CONTENT. Music? News? Opinions? Entertainment? Gossip? It’s all up for grabs, everything is fair game. Jam an RSS needle in your arm and get hooked. Clooney has some views he made public? Time for blogmashing!! There’s no reason why they can’t be “embedded” (much like a video) into a blog post. He is the “author” of his words, no? We are all participants in life, willing or not. Good on Arianna and bad on the rest of you for “not getting it.”

  • http://www.newyorker.com/ The Ghost of A.J. Liebling

    Ivan: what you fail to recognize is that the standards are out the window. Mistakes that would be considered journalistic sins actually bring in more readers on the blogs. That’s the problem with this whole shell game.

    JJ: Maybe standards for bloggers was a good idea after all. Are you keeping your affiliation?

  • Anna Haynes

    It’s a pity they didn’t publish a Contract with Readers/Code of Ethics beforehand; it could have prevented misunderstandings and reputational hits, and saved a lot of trouble.

  • http://www.bloodandtreasure.com Noel Guinane

    Arianna has a PR sort of mind. Maybe she should work for Edelman … or maybe she already does – Patchwork Quote Consultant, Clooney account.

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  • qcontent

    Actors by their very nature are people who suffer from a certain type of insecurity, incomplete ego, and / or shyness of self, regarding who they really are; consequently they are more comfortable playing the role of someone else, some character in a film or on TV or in a play or whatever type of story format they pursue. That is how actors are and that it the nature of acting as a general rule (it’s the basic modus operandi of actors). So whenever an actor considers using a ghost writer for something, they are simply doing what they normally do in reverse; not being who (or what) they really are. Furthermore, famous actors tend to be quite busy and would find it hard to do a low revenue producing, lower exposure duty, on a consistent basis. Everyone should know by now that most things in society are not what they appear to be. Most of the information that is dispersed to us in any medium, comes from other sources that where they appear to come from. What’s the problem here? Why is it a big deal if one chooses to use a ghost writer? It happens all the time. In fact and in reality, it happens more often, than it doesn’t happen, no?

  • Fred W123234

    Blogging is supposed to mean unfiltered opinions and facts.

    Yet, the truth of this blogging adventure is the opinions and facts can get filtered through the distribution system of blog sites.

    She is no better than the New York Times. She made up an article and pasted George Clooney’s name to it. At least she should claim editing credit and credit the original interviews. Don’t the original sources have to be credited as well?

    With all the Huffington Post blogs on Bush/Cheney lies, she hasn’t learned a thing. Or maybe she did learn from the Master Rove.

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  • Mark Allen

    Why is it a big deal if one chooses to use a ghost writer?

    – qcontent

    It is a big deal precisely because Clooney did NOT choose. Hello?! Anybody home?

  • harkin

    As inane as saywot’s ramblings are, I do agree with one thing it said, Ms Huffington’s method of operation is ‘no different than [other] bloggers stealing’.

    I guess you shouldnt advance to ‘web 2.0′ unless you’ve first taken the course ‘ethics 101′.

  • qcontent

    Mark Allen Says:
    “It is a big deal precisely because Clooney did NOT choose. Hello?! Anybody home?” . . . .

    So? Or, should I say, “So what.”

    Clooney would rather have the exposure, than not having it. People saying good or bad or authorized or unauthorized things about him or other famous people, are par for their respective courses. It happens all to them the time. One of the prices of fame. Trust me, Clooney didn’t loose an ounce of sleep over it. Are you actually naive enough to think Clooney would give a damn?

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