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.