Friday, February 18, 2011

The Huffington Post Is A National Disgrace

I recently made a decision that has changed my life for the better. This is not a big, earthshaking choice like giving up alcohol or having a child; it's more like I removed a constant annoyance from my daily routine. It's like that old joke: Man raises his arm and tells his doctor, "It hurts when I go like this." And the doctor says, "Don't go like that."

In this case, "don't go like that" means "stop visiting The Huffington Post."

I don't mean to say that I would go to the site and come away hopping mad or with my blood boiling. I agree politically with probably 80% of what's published there. But in all media, tone is everything and I can't stand the misleading, tabloid-style headlines, the 80-point fonts, the celebrity bloggers... I hate the tone of this website, and I can't take any more. It's over, Huffington Post.

A lot of left-leaning people like to lament the lack of a news outlet equivalent to The Drudge Report or Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and there have been various efforts over the last decade to make those happen, with varying success. But The Huffington Post is Exhibit A in why such a thing does nobody any good.

When this site started, it was supposed to be like a less obnoxious, unbiased Drudge Report. (Liberals think that "unbiased" means "liberal," but I have no problem with that; conservatives think it means "conservative." That's just human nature.) And for a while, it kind of was. But it obviously either wasn't getting the eyeballs to make it profitable (or more likely, profitable enough) so it started pandering and raising the headline sizes and removing any pretense of objectivity and goosing up the gossip coverage.

I don't need objectivity. I don't have a problem with bias in a news story-- I kind of doubt it's possible for anyone to be totally unbiased. I'm a big boy with a fully functioning frontal lobe; I can spot the bias and take whatever news it accompanies with the necessary grain of salt. Bias doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the constant indulgence in sniggering over minutiae. Making mountains out of molehills is a trademark of the right-wing noise machine, as is feigned outrage, and HuffPo is doing its best to outdo them at both. Hasn't anyone ever heard of the Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Sarah Palin is their current whipping post: everything out of this woman's mouth gets a headline, even if it's just a verbal typo. To be clear: I can't stand Sarah Palin and I think she is the most manifestly unfit leader to ever achieve national recognition. She makes Dan Quayle look like Abraham Lincoln. But it doesn't give me any pleasure to revel in her every tortured, obviously self-serving statement. If we really want her to go away -- and I really want her to go away -- the best thing we can do is ignore her. (She would really hate it, too, which is a bonus.) So how 'bout we do that? 

The other, equally aggravating HuffPo staple is its flogging of gossip stories. Now look: I like a nice gossip story as much as the next guy -- the last entry in this space was about Lindsay friggin' Lohan -- but can you at least do me the courtesy of limiting the gossip stories to be about people I've actually heard of? Are people that interested in the comings and goings of Padma Lakshmi? Who is Padma Lakshmi, while we're on the subject? She's beautiful, but why do I care if she's pregnant? And who is Kendra? I remember a 28-day period where the HuffPo homepage featured screaming headlines about Kendra (no last name ever given) every single day. 

But the worst thing about this site, by far, BY FAR, is its celebrity bloggers. Who decided that just because someone's been in a movie they deserve prominent real estate on a news outlet? Alec Baldwin is funny on 30 Rock and I largely agree with his politics, but does that mean his every stray thought needs to be read by the world? Harry Shearer is responsible for some of my favorite comedy ever -- he's Mr. Burns AND Derek Smalls -- but his strident, condescending writing is unreadable by me.

But the most headscratchingly awful writing on this site, and in fact that I've ever seen on the Internet (which I think we can agree is saying something) is the unhinged blatherings of Jamie Lee Curtis. Allow me a couple of quotes. First, from her Jan. 27 post, "Nothing To Undo":
Today, not yesterday and probably not tomorrow, but today, this moment, I have Nothing to Undo. I have not done something I am regretting or have not put into motion something that will gather steam, like the cartoon snowflake turning into a giant snowball. This place of relative equanimity comes from my idea that inner-direction has shifted to be at least at best equal to my constant outer-directedness.

Huh? I have read this three times... wait... make that four times, and I have no idea what it says.

One more, from the September 15, 2010 post "Consider The Source":

As my ubiquity reaches its promotional peak, and I am asked daily to opine about a young co-star's public fumbling and what I consider the source of her issues, I come back of course to look at my own. We all are a product of our parents, our environment, our peers, and yet when we look in the mirror we are looking at the problem... and the solution. As parents we all need to remember that we are our children's most important source, and the greatest gift we can give them is the permission to have their own opinion backed up by good discourse and debate, and of course by asking good questions. Believe me, at 52, I am just figuring it out, and I am trying to be careful about what I feed my son without asking if he really likes what I am dishing up and being willing to hear NO. 
Food for thought.

Yes, food for thought. First thought: Who gave you a blog? Second thought: "As my ubiquity reaches its promotional peak"? What does that even mean? Third thought: Who ends their own musings with "Food for thought?" I'll tell you who: people way too impressed with their own musings.

Both of these posts sat on the Huffington Post homepage for weeks. Weeks. On the front page of what is ostensibly a news source. I don't begrudge anyone the right to spout off on the Internet. If people love the writings of Jamie Lee Curtis, I would encourage those people to seek those writings out. On or whatever. But even the Drudge Report doesn't give key real estate to, say, Kelsey Grammer. Even The New York Times makes you look for the editorials.

With this constant elevation of celebrities, both by its extensive gossip coverage and by featuring the blogs of celebrities over the blogs of experts, The Huffington Post is contributing to the general belief that celebrities are better than everyone else, and that is not cool. So I'm not reading it anymore.

Food for thought.

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