In her new book, Thrive, web hegemon Arianna Huffington promises to “redefine what it means to be successful in today’s world.” On her own website, however, the definition of success remains the same: being friends with Arianna Huffington.
Gawker has learned that on April 1, the Huffington Post founder personally removed a charity industry expert’s skeptical opinion from an article about HugDug, a product-reviewing website that gives half of its profits to charity. HugDug was founded by the entrepreneur Seth Godin, a friend of Huffington’s and a frequent object of positive coverage among HuffPost’s stable of volunteer bloggers.
A pre-publication version of the HugDug article, written by reporter Betsy Isaacson, contained a paragraph quoting Charity Navigator’s Sandra Miniutti, according to multiple individuals familiar with the editing process. It read:
Sandra Miniutti, CFO of charity ranking institution Charity Navigator, told HuffPost that sites like HugDug shouldn’t be considered “substitutes” for traditional charitable giving. “The percentages given to the charity per purchase are usually so small, that this revenue model, so far, hasn’t been a windfall for most charities.” But if you want to share your enthusiasm for the paperback or watch you just bought, HugDug can help you do that and generate a few coins for a charity while you’re at it.
The entire passage was deleted at Huffington’s request shortly before publication. The timing was tight enough that Isaacson’s editor, Gregory Beyer, sent an email explaining the excision to several Huffington Post employees, including the website’s entire business vertical.
“So you know,” Beyer wrote, “Arianna asked that we remove the comment from Miniutti.”
“That email does not go into the conversation that Arianna and I had by phone regarding the piece,” Beyer told Gawker. “It was a shorthand way of letting our team know that it was not just my decision, but Arianna’s too.”
He added: “HugDug is not claiming to have created a substitute for traditional ways of charitable giving. They’re trying to give people a new way to give, so the comment from Sandra Miniutti didn’t really apply to the story.”
Former Huffington Post staffers offered varying accounts of Huffington’s control over individual stories. “She has asked that pieces be unfeatured for various reasons,” said one, “but I don’t know of any time she’s actually changed the content.” Another claimed that “if she didn’t like something, editors would have to tinker with it until her angry emails stopped.”
Isaacson’s article did not disclose Huffington’s ties to Godin, nor her role in its editing, but Huffington and Godin have a history of looking out for one another. In Thrive, for example, Huffington generously excerpts a 2013 blog post written by Godin, about the necessity of identifying “who’s part of the online community for the right reasons.” In return, Godin effusively blurbed the inspirational tome: “This is a generous, urgent, vital book, a chance to redefine how we keep score before it’s too late. Arianna has given us a gift, and delivered it with style. Read it!”
“Yes, Seth and I are friends,” Huffington said, when asked. She declined, however, to comment on the article’s editing process.
“I just finished my speech in Nashville and saw the email that Greg sent to you,” she said. “I don’t have anything to add to it.”
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