In an early May meeting with top Huffington Post managers, founder Arianna Huffington expressed an interest in finding the person who leaked a troubling email relating to the website’s coverage of Uber, according to three informed sources. Leaking internal documents is unacceptable and doesn’t comport with company values, Huffington argued. Also: Those who do such things must be malcontents who would be better off leaving their jobs.
The impression that Huffington imparted was that she was already pursuing the leaker and urged her colleagues to be mindful of problem employees, according to the sources.
On April 28, this blog reported that Huffington Post executive features editor Gregory Beyer had killed a story pitch about an Uber driver who had turned over the controls to a passenger while he took a nap. The substitute driver then led police on a highway chase. The pitch came just after the Huffington Post had consummated a partnership with Uber to combat drowsy driving, of all things. “Let’s hold on this one please as we’re partnering with Uber on our drowsy driving campaign,” Beyer wrote in an email secured by this blog.
Colleagues of Beyer later received this apology: “Hi everyone, just wanted to bump this because a few people have asked me about this email and I realize it gave off the wrong impression. Obviously our partnerships never affect our coverage, and I was moving quickly in the moment and sent the wrong message as I read it in hindsight. For any confusion or concern I caused with my note, I apologize.”
News of these events landed on a hot griddle, because Uber in late April announced that Huffington herself had joined the company’s board of directors. Questioned about the ethics of the arrangement, the Huffington Post noted that Huffington would recuse herself from future Uber coverage and argued that it had generated tough coverage of the company over a period when Huffington had struck a friendship with Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick.
Whatever countermeasures Huffington may be planning against leaky staffers, the Beyer email circulated widely within the Huffington Post, in large part because he’d sent it to two news editing pods within the organization. The Huffington Post is in the midst of collective-bargaining negotiations with newsroom staffers under the leadership of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). Editorial independence and integrity are among the bargaining unit’s priorities.
Asked about efforts against the leaker of the Uber email, Huffington responded through spokeswoman Lena Auerbuch: “This is absolutely false. We’re beyond disappointed to see The Washington Post being used by an anonymous, apparently disgruntled employee. We’d expect this sort of thing from Gawker, but not from The Washington Post.” The Erik Wemple Blog responded to that by requesting any specifics on what Huffington had discussed at the meeting. Was the leak discussed? How did she counsel her people to handle the situation? We’ve received no response.