On January 18, 2018, I received an email from The Huffington Post announcing that the news site was discontinuing publishing posts from contributors. Launched in 2005 as a site that shared blogs by celebrities and pundits in the model of a salon hosted by Arianna Huffington, the site quickly grew to a news aggregator for the Left, ultimately to be bought by AOL and eventually turned into a less-colorful news portal with its own reporting. When I first started contributing essays and articles to Huffington Post in 2008, there was an air of prestige to being included. By 2017, after countless headlines about “nip slips,” the prestige had long disappeared, and questions of paying writers for their work dogged the early adapter to the blogosphere. I myself had already decided to not contribute anymore, as contributor posts were no longer featured like they once were. But the end of the Contributor Era of HuffPost prompted me to reflect on the hundreds of articles I had submitted to what I considered to be the high school newspaper for grownups.
In that time I saw my articles quoted and linked in major newspapers in the U.S. and Europe. Once HuffPost started showing social media stats, you could see how many Facebook shares, likes, Tweets, or comments the article amassed, and it was possible to watch an article get hundreds of shares instantly. I used HuffPost as a platform to share videos of our movie-in-progress while working on our documentary PAY 2 PLAY, as well as writing commentary on how pay to play politics were unfolding around us. I was selected in a journalism competition to cover the 2012 Democratic National Convention for HuffPost and UStream, when streaming video was just barely viable.
This book is a collection of essays and interviews during the Obama era that appeared in HuffPost which are still relevant. There is still long-term reform of our voting systems and campaign finance laws to be achieved. In these essays there is unknowing prescience about the rise of the right wing as a backlash to Obama’s election. The flash point that was Occupy Wall Street had to be experienced to be understood, but its captivating launch is relayed in these pages. There are writings that became curiously controversial and widely shared, like about the old TV show ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’ or even Ayn Rand, something you’d think was already well-worn. When hidden camera videos by some kid named James O’Keefe III emerged making wild accusations about ACORN, an established umbrella organization serving disadvantaged communities nationwide, I was one of the few to speak out immediately in the organization’s defense and express skepticism about the videos. By the time the videos were found to be deceptively edited and illegally recorded, ACORN had been cut off from federal funding and disbanded. My articles were enough to catch the attention of O’Keefe, who claimed in his own book that I called him “the whitest guy ever.” That I was quoting O’Keefe calling himself “the whitest guy ever” on FOX News shows how inherently disingenuous he is—and that he was apparently reading my stuff, too.
Which is the lesson I learned: you never knew who was reading. After I wrote a piece lambasting The New York Times for its bankrupting business decisions, Alec Baldwin wrote a passionate defense of the Grey Lady that read like a point-by-point response. I once hated myself for writing such a dumbed-down emphasis in a piece when I wrote, “This is serious stuff here,” only to see it quoted in the Washington Post by Howard Kurtz, who thought it must be serious stuff. My diplomatic nudging of the intractable chair of the Ohio Democratic Party grew into a weeks-long controversy playing out in a small Ohio newspaper, fueling his resignation. There was the time I interviewed a conservative filmmaker about his Sarah Palin documentary, only for the exchange to boil over into battling columns on HuffPost, culminating in his think-piece, “John Ennis Thinks I’m a Dumbass: A Point by Point Response.” Good times!
Here’s hoping you enjoy them as well.