Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post thinks Mark Halperin's "Something About Mary"-style Photoshop of Mary Landrieu is inappropriate. I agree. I'm a sucker for pop-culture references, but there's a sexual connotation (even if it is more juvenile than degrading), and it shouldn't be used to diminish a United States senator at Time Magazine. (So nobody gets caught up in calling me out for not calling out right-wingers, Beck and Limbaugh were inappropriate on Landrieu, too.) I'm not here to quarrel with the substance of Linkins' criticism, however, but with its origin. The Huffington Post's methods for getting traffic of late put it at a distinct disadvantage when trying to argue credibly about respectful treatment of women. Why, you might ask? After all, The Huffington Post is run by a stand-up, professional, liberal, feminist woman-Arianna Huffington. Surely, her site would be irreproachable on such matters. Judge for yourself. Below is the illustration Huffington Post writer Howie Klein used to illustrate a story about liberal folk hero Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) calling a female Fed official a "whore" on the radio. His story was headlined, "Alan Grayson calls a whore a whore-- Beltway whores freak out & defend Enron lobbyist working at the Fed." The photo is a composite of Fed official Linda Robertson and Ashlee Dupre, the well-known prostitute whose services were retained frequently by the former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York. The caption under the photo read, "Very different types of political whores."
Feel the empowerment. Below is the most popular item at Huffington Post today, which leads one to a slideshow that I cannot link:
Or, there's this subtle sell of a Megan Fox photoshoot, which I also cannot link:
Now, I confess that I read gossip blogs where such things are generally posted, on a regular basis. In doing so, I run across a fair amount of nastiness and misogyny, but I have to say this is one of the skeeziest headlines I saw for this Megan Fox photo, which was featured prominently at every unruly gossip enclave on the Internet. But all right, you might say. Those calendar pictures and photoshoots are tastefully done, professionally photographed female nudity. There's nothing anti-women about posting photos those women posed for, is there? Well, one of the other "most popular" news items on Huffpo today is, "Kate Hudson's Near NSFW Slip At AMAs (PHOTOS)." Yes, the nip slip- a usually inadvertent exposure of an actress or singer, and staple of left-of-center journalism it would seem, judging by the Huffington Post. Next up, Vanessa Hudgens, a young Disney actress whose private, nude photos have been leaked on the Internet twice, now, promptly bringing traffic to Huffington Post. (There is an argument to be made that such tapes and photos are leaked strategically by stars, but then HuffPo still has to contend with the argument about whether they belong on a political site.)
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Another HuffPo writer, Anastasia Goodstein, lifts the site to the pinnacle of cynicism with her piece, "Vannessa Hudgens Photos: A Teachable Moment." Message: Don't get naked for your boyfriends, gals, because those photos could turn up in a different context, and give the Huffington Post its best stats of the month! Finally, I enjoyed this titillating illustration of a prostitution ring. If the story doesn't bring you in, this faceless woman in a hot dress with her feet in the air will:
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Now, the Huffington Post has to make a buck, like any other business, and this is how it's going about doing it. Any headline with "NSFW" or "slip" or "upskirt" in it will bring you Internet traffic, but at what cost? (Update: I meant to add here that we obviously see the same tricks used by cable news for audience, though not to quite the extent the Internet allows.) I'd argue that the kind of Internet traffic HuffPo trafficks in is below a political site of the caliber it purports to be, period. But the Huffington Post is also a left-of-center reporting outlet with a keen interest in harping on what it calls the "anti-woman" views and policies of the Republican Party, conservative leaders, and even conservative Democrats. Somehow it's hard to take HuffPo's rant about Neanderthal Stupak-amendment supporters seriously when it's right next to Rihanna's exposed nipple and some D-lister's leaked sex tape. It won't be long before people start to claim, defensively, at D.C. dinner parties that they just read HuffPo "for the articles."
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