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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 07/26/2011

Note to HuffPo: Think before publishing

There are lots of things that you can publish at a fast-paced news site without consulting a soul. A bit of analysis on whether John Boehner or President Obama did a better job on TV last night — fine. A little riff on how excited you are that there’ll be an NFL season come September — have at it. Summer grilling tips — fire them up!

Yet if you are planning on comparing Republicans to terrorists, maybe a meeting is in order. Hash through the thinking, the definition of the word “terrorist,” the phrasing and so on.

It’s possible that Huffington Post Executive Business Editor Peter S. Goodman went through plenty of such discussions before publishing a column yesterday titled, “Republican ‘Terrorism’: Debt Ceiling Debate Tactics Are Perilous.” Just a few sentences into the tract, Goodman wrote that the Republicans are “acting like terrorists. Yes, terrorists.”

But if the HuffPo braintrust was behind the racy parallels, the commitment came undone pretty quickly. The outlet changed the headline to read, “Republican Debt Ceiling Tactics Hold National Interest Hostage.” It also scrubbed the above-cited references to Republicans acting like terrorists.

HuffPo at first appeared committed to leaving its readership in the dark about the changes. It issued an editor’s note saying, “This piece has been updated from its original version.” The reasonable reader, upon sampling that note, might conclude that it had been adjusted to account for another twist in the negotiations, or something like that.

That whitewash wasn’t going to stick. Perhaps because readers were complaining; perhaps because the Erik Wemple Blog sent a note asking about the changes; perhaps because someone internally wasn’t comfy with the “updated” thing, HuffPo slapped a new and improved editor’s note on the piece late in the afternoon. Now it reads: “An earlier version of this opinion piece employed terrorism as a metaphor — a metaphor that some readers appear to have taken literally. In this updated version, the language has been changed to address these concerns.”

More lameness right here. The final note underplays what the original piece had said. It compared Republicans to terrorists. And in the casual memory of a reader of the original version, it called Republicans terrorists.

Huffington Post spokesperson Mario Ruiz didn’t respond to a question on the matter. Roy Sekoff, the founding editor of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, says that what went down is “exactly like what is described in the new Editor’s Note on the post.”

What is described in the new editor’s note is cowardice. The Web site is attacking “some readers” for their literal interpretation of the word “terrorists.” As if it were all their fault. Goodman writes from New York, a place with some terrorism history. People who lived through Sept. 11 don’t pussyfoot with the word “terrorists”; it means one thing.

When Goodman left the New York Times for his job at Huffington Post, he expressed a weariness with the confines of old-school journalism, dissing the “process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader.”

Maybe Goodman should re-connect with those think tankers.

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 07/26/2011

 
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