The Huffington Post has blacklisted veteran labor reporter Mike Elk from its site for using his press credentials to help 200 construction workers expose the $900 million back-door bailout of mortgage bank, PulteGroup. In so doing, HuffPo has effectively given the middle finger to any and all of its reporters who display courage and conviction in their professional endeavors. This is a disgrace. If HuffPo were true to its mission and its record, Elk would have been promoted. Click here for Mike’s version of events, and here for the perspective of one of the construction workers who benefited from Mike’s activism.
Et tu HuffPo? By now, it comes as no surprise when, under pressure, a mainstream institution sells out one of its allies or clients for engaging in controversial acts, or outright civil disobedience. Bank of America’s decision to end its stint as Wikileaks’ banker comes to mind. As does President Obama’s decision to throw Green Jobs Czar Van Jones under the bus when Glenn Beck made political hay out of a letter Jones signed. But now the progressive news site Huffington Post, led by the trusted progressive, Arianna Huffington, is refusing to publish its own seasoned journalists who stand up for what is right?
In writing this piece I do not want to diminish from the work of HuffPo‘s committed editors, and reporters, or the impact of its past and current accomplishments. I seek only to hold the news source accountable for the inexcusable blacklisting of one of its reporters, in the hopes it will return to its more activism-friendly roots. . . .
It appears that in the case of this particular scandal, HuffPo is not immune to conflicts of interest. The construction workers Mike helped out were angry because the PulteGroup received a $900 million bailout through the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009. It was meant to create jobs for construction workers and others, but instead, the company used it to do “very important” corporate things like debt restructuring and land acquisition. Mike used his press credentials to enable the workers to protest the fraud inside the meeting, and subsequently passed on news of the event to HuffPo‘s Shahien Nasiripour to write about. HuffPo‘s editors never objected to Nasiripour’s article. In fact, they could only have been happy to see that Nasiripour’s piece received more than 2,000 comments. But apparently heads needed to roll because, HuffPo’s Business Editor, Peter Goodman, just couldn’t take the heat his crony banker pals were giving him for Elk’s exposure of their fraud. So Goodman fired Elk, or more accurately–since he was never a paid employee–blacklisted him, on the false pretenses of violating journalistic ethics, and even denied that Mike had ever been hired as a “reporter.”
What makes Elk’s firing even more disgusting, however, is the rank hypocrisy and exploitative tendencies it uncovers on the part of HuffPo‘s editors. Even if they did not actively collaborate with Goodman in Elk’s blacklisting, they have let it go unnoticed and offered no decent explanation. Goodman’s decision to penalize Elk for engaging in guerrilla journalism either reflects a double standard being used against Elk for personal reasons, or more probably a departure from HuffPo’s more independent beginnings in which it encouraged guerrilla journalism, most notably in Arthur Delaney’s “party-crashing” series recounting his experiences being refused entry to DC lobbyist fundraisers (though it must be noted, Delaney never tried to use his press credentials to gain access).
As for HuffPo’s exploitative tendencies, the site has thrown one of its most committed and prolific freelance reporters into the shredder. Elk has written over 100 articles for the site—never once for pay. As Elk has described it, HuffPo’s agreement with unpaid writers is that in exchange for their efforts, freelance contributors are free to write whatever they want, no matter the level of controversy. HuffPo’s public disowning of Elk as even one of its reporters speaks to a dangerous lack of ethical labor practices on their part. It is one thing for HuffPo to encourage freelance writers with ties to other media outlets to make unpaid contributions to its site, but quite another to deny ever having received their services as a reporter when the slightest controversy arises, and effectively renege on its promise not to censor their content. I pity any young writers hoping to get their start at HuffPo. It is apparently a ruthless capitalist media giant that thinks nothing of disposing of its writers once they have ceased to be “useful” to the paper.
Moreover, HuffPo‘s dismissal of its sole labor reporter marks another step in its surrender to pop culture-friendly “progressive” journalism. Stories about the struggles of ordinary working Americans have already had to compete for space on the site with news of the Kardashian sisters’ weight loss plans. Now it seems that publishing them altogether is too much of a buzz-kill for the carefree, limo-lib vibe that HuffPo is trying to cultivate.
Ultimately this is a question of solidarity with a fellow human being. Mike Elk lives and breathes union solidarity. (Full disclosure: Mike Elk is a friend of mine.) He comes from a long line of union workers and organizers. He was raised to be conscious of the suffering of others, and the systematic denial of the rights of large swaths of our population.
Still, with his evident writing talent and proficiency in detailed policy matters, Mike could have chosen to pursue more lucrative opportunities in the world of mainstream journalism. But instead he decided to follow his passion: helping workers organize and demand their rights, reporting their struggles to the public, and holding the powerful accountable for their actions. What Mike did for the construction workers in Washington, DC the other day was just the latest example of his commitment to empowering workers and protecting the public interest.
But now, thanks to HuffPo’s liberal-when-it’s-convenient protocols, Mike Elk’s ability to disseminate his important work has suffered a serious setback. It is time to stand with Mike. We are all Mike Elk. When one person’s livelihood is threatened for speaking truth to power, we are all in danger.
I’m waiting to hear from Mike about the best way forward, but I do not think that a boycott of HuffPo is out of the question. Certainly, Arianna Huffington, who, to her credit, is very public about her concerns for working people, should be held accountable for the decision to fire him.
It is not too late for HuffPo to return to its genuinely progressive, renegade reporting roots.