During the presidential campaign, HuffPost took a strong editorial stand against Donald Trump. Right up to Election Day, the following editor’s note appeared on Trump-related articles:
Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
In December, the website hired Lydia Polgreen from Trump supporters’ least-favorite newspaper, the New York Times, to succeed Arianna Huffington as editor in chief. This month, it filled the executive editor’s role with Jim Rich, the former editor in chief of the New York Daily News.
Yet HuffPost insists that it does not want to alienate Trump backers; it wants to win them over. Some of them, anyway.
“I really think about us as a platform for solidarity and really doing journalism that helps people see the things that they have in common, rather than the things that divide them,” Polgreen said.
Polgreen recently told The Fix how she plans to pull this off. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: How do you see Jim fitting into the vision you described in a recent Recode interview, which is to make overtures to people who voted for Donald Trump? You don’t want to be a site read only by people who hate his guts but, of course, some of the memorable covers the Daily News printed under Rich were very, very critical of Trump.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) February 2, 2016
I could see some of the president’s supporters thinking you don’t really want to reach out because you just brought in this guy who skewered their man.
POLGREEN: Well, I think you need to look in a more holistic way at what the bucket of people who voted for Trump actually looks like. I think there’s probably a hardcore group of people who support him no matter what, who have beliefs that would make them never want to be readers of HuffPost. But I think there’s actually a much broader group of readers who voted for Trump because they felt frustrated by business as usual. …
To me, Jim harks back to the best and most egalitarian tradition in journalism, which is the working person’s tabloid. Jim himself comes from a background that, I think, is less and less seen in newsrooms. He comes from a blue-collar town at the northern end of Westchester County (N.Y.). He went to community college for a while, worked as an air-conditioning installer for a bit. On a very deep and visceral level, he represents the kind of people who got really frustrated and decided to vote for Trump.
THE FIX: I have not seen lately the same editor’s note on Trump-related stories that appeared throughout the campaign — the one that labeled him a liar, racist and misogynist.
POLGREEN: That predated me.
THE FIX: Right. I’m not asking you to bash predecessors; I’m just wondering if that kind of language, that kind of labeling, is something we should expect from HuffPost going forward — to be that assertive and say, “There is no debate. He is racist.”
POLGREEN: I think my general position as a journalist is to tell the best and most accurate story that I can and let the reader make their own mind up about what conclusion they should draw from that. I come from a journalistic tradition at the New York Times, where that is very much the ethos. I plan to continue that at HuffPost.
THE FIX: So, does that mean being very specific about what he said, what the objection is …
POLGREEN: Yeah, and I would differentiate that from a kind of on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand type of coverage, which we are absolutely not going to do. To me, it’s not a question of finding some mealy-mouthed middle.
THE FIX: Is there anything to learn from conservative news sites? I’m reminded of an interview Mike Allen did when he was launching Axios, and I was struck by his saying there are a lot of things he and his partners admire about Breitbart.
POLGREEN: Breitbart obviously has an interesting kinship with HuffPost. Andrew Breitbart learned everything he knew about Internet publishing from his time at HuffPost.
THE FIX: And maybe a little from Matt Drudge.
POLGREEN: Yeah, and I was going to say the kind of vortex of Internet journalism that inspired HuffPost was the Drudge Report, and I continue to see that as a source of inspiration. Matt Drudge is a master curator; he’s a master packager. I think, to this day, HuffPost gets a lot of its DNA and mojo from the best lessons that Drudge has learned in his many, many years of doing his thing.
I think that Breitbart has been very good at packaging and framing stories in a way that is designed to invoke outrage and, I think, some would say HuffPost also packages and puts together stories in ways to invoke outrage. It’s really a question of what the target of that outrage is, who you’re representing and who should be outraged. I don’t want to speak for Breitbart, but I have a very clear sense of who should be outraged in our audience, and that’s ordinary people who are wondering what the big powerful institutions that govern their lives are up to. That’s where we aim our outrage machine.