AOL, Huffington Post Can Not Be Trusted as Journalists

Kara Swisher, at least for today, is my hero. Click her link. Follow her on Twitter. Kara Swisher has jumped into the ranks of people I trust, and if you read this piece, you’ll see why.

In that piece, Ms. Swisher, a long-time technology journalist who counts among her personal friends Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington, opens up. Kara talks about her finances, her sexual orientation, her relationship with her partner, and a problem at AOL and The Huffington Post that’s just so mind-shatteringly horrific and so absolutely reveals Arianna Huffington, Tim Armstrong, and AOL as being untrustworthy that I had to share it with you.

As you know, I’ve been critical of AOL and Tim Armstrong. I think AOL is a company that has tried and failed to regain its early luster a few too many times, and that Tim Armstrong is not capable of leading AOL back to prominence (disclosure: I was an IPO shareholder in AOL). I believe that AOL’s plans to become the world’s most prominent content farm are problematic at best, and although I thought that AOL acquiring The Huffington Post had the potential to redeem Tim Armstrong and his plans, I’m now just … well, I said it above; I’m horrified.

In her column yesterday, Kara Swisher reveals that the AOL Content Farm, under Arianna Huffington’s direction, has a very strange rule in place regarding conflicts of interest. Its employee/journalists aren’t allowed to own stock in the companies about which they report.

That’s not the strange part. Journalism outposts have had policies similar to that in place for decades, and while I believe it’s possible for those policies to be softer than they typically are, the problem is that at AOL under Arianna Huffington, the rules specifically do not apply to one employee.

Truly reprehensible. Horrifying. Amazing. And so out of line that Arianna Huffington simply cannot be trusted, nor can her boss, Tim Armstrong.

The employee in question? Michael Arrington, the impresario of AOL-owned TechCrunch.

Mike Arrington isn’t exactly a trustworthy type, himself. From his refusal to honor press embargoes (even after signing them) to his questionable business dealings and grandstanding about them, Michael Arrington keeps coming off as a guy who can’t be trusted. But I presume that he has a deal in place with AOL that stipulates his right to continue being an investor as well as a writer for AOL’s content farm/journalism mill, and I applaud him for having negotiated such a deal. Arrington may not be a good guy, but he’s clearly a smart guy.

Let’s say that my guess is correct; when Arrington sold TechCrunch to AOL he specifically got wording in the employment agreement that went along with the sale allowing him to keep doing business the way he always has. Good for him. But if AOL wishes to be in the journalism business then their policies for editorial employees cannot apply to “everyone except Mike Arrington”.

The solution is actually quite simple: AOL can fire Mike Arrington. I expect there would be a minor payout associated with terminating his employment contract, but given the forty million or so dollars AOL paid Mike Arrington for TechCrunch and over three hundred million dollars they paid for Huffington Post, it would be an insignificant expense. And let’s face it: Michael Arrington brings nothing of value to AOL as am employee or an editor.

Arianna Huffington, are you listening? You cannot grant Mike Arrington special dispensation to violate your conflict of interest policy. Fire Michael Arrington immediately, and apologize publicly for what you told Kara Swisher.