Leaving the Huffington Post

Since 2011 I have posted 66 of my blog posts on the UK Huffington Post website.  It has been for me, an odd and often disconcerting experience, to find myself on the same website as Alistair Campbell, Cherie Blair, or the dreadful hatemonger/bigot Katie Hopkins, who HP has assidiously promoted, for reasons known only to itself.

For a supposedly liberal outlet, HP has a startling number of readers who sound like they have just staggered out of a UKIP piss-up – something that becomes immediately obvious if you post anything to do with immigration.    HP also devotes an alarming amount of space to Daily Mail-style celebrity trivia and sleaze stories.

Nevertheless, HP has broken some important stories, and it also publishes a lot of writing that I have admired.   In the three years that I have written for it I have never had a piece refused on political grounds.   Yesterday that changed, and I’m going to explain why.   This isn’t because it matters at all in the great scheme of things whether I publish pieces on Huff Post or not.  But the episode is so horribly symptomatic of a certain kind of moral cowardice in the so-called liberal media, particularly with regard to Israel-Palestine, that it deserves a little exposure.

So bear with me, if you will.   The mini-saga began two days ago, when I submitted a post about the Israeli teenager murders called Netanyahu’s Blood Feud, which you can find here.

When contributors post a piece on UK Huff Post, you get a message back stating that your piece will be considered within 24 hours, and usually that is what happens.  But  I have sometimes found that pieces  I’ve sent have drifted off to the US Huff Post, and don’t get considered, so if I don’t get a message announcing publication I usually write to the UK blog team to ask what has happened to my piece.

This is what I did yesterday, when my Netanyahu piece didn’t appear.   But this time I was told by the HP blogs editor that ‘we’re passing on publishing it on this occasion.’   Smelling a rat, I wrote back and asked why they had passed.

No response was forthcoming, so I wrote again, arguing that criticism of Netanyahu or Israel ought to be considered my prerogative, rather than an expression of HP’s editorial views.  I cited Huff Post’s contributor guidelines which state that contributions should not be: ‘objectionable, inaccurate or inflammatory’ or ‘ obscene, defamatory, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive.’ I suggested if HP believed my post had breached these guidelines, then I should have been told, and that if it didn’t, then it shouldn’t have been rejected.

Eventually I got a reply from the blogs editor stating that:

‘ We have no obligation to host any blog posts whatsoever and we can decline for any reason.  We just chose not to host this as we don’t feel that it’s a good fit for the site.’ 

Now I should mention at this stage that I don’t like censorship and I don’t like being censored.  I also have a visceral aversion to mealy-mouthed mediaspeak that refuses to say what it actually means.  In more than 30 years working as a freelance journalist, mostly for liberal-left publications, you get used to working within certain unspoken limits about what you can and can’t say, and you get used to hearing this kind of language from editors.

But my tolerance for this kind of thing has diminished over the years, and I am particularly tired of the pathetic deference to Israeli official narratives that so infuses media representations of Israel-Palestine.   So I wrote back an annoyed email, in which I suggested that HP’s response was representative of ‘ a certain kind of cowardice in the liberal media, that will not accept any criticism of Israel or regards such criticism as too potentially “hot” to want to handle. ‘

I also criticized HP’s decision to  ‘pass’ on the piece without even having the courage to make its objections clear, and said that I would no longer be making any further contributions to a site that behaves in this way, and which refused to allow criticism that did not fall within certain parameters.

In response I got this:

‘The Huffington Post simply does not wish to host any blog posts from either side of the Israel/Palestine argument, not anti Israeli, anti Palestinian, nor pro Israeli, pro Palestinian and we are perfectly within our rights not to do so.’

But that didn’t seem to me much of an argument, particularly coming from a website whose founder, Arianna Huffington, once declared  that ‘Our highest responsibility is to the truth. The truth is not about splitting the difference between one side and the other. Sometimes one side is speaking the truth.’

Exactly, and HP’s readers should be able to make those decisions for themselves.   And yesterday, on the same day that my piece was rejected, the US Huff Post published a piece by uber-Zionist and director of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman about the Israeli teen kidnappings which attributed them to a ‘Palestinian culture of hate.’

Now you can agree or disagree with Foxman’s views, just as you can with mine.  But anyone who publishes a piece which places the Israeli “occupation” in scare quotation marks is clearly expressing a very particular view of the Israeli-Palestinian ‘debate’ that HP doesn’t want to have, yet its editors still chose to publish it.  When I wrote back and pointed out this discrepancy, I was told by the blogs editor that:

‘ In the guidelines we say we endeavour not to host anything inflammatory and anything either side of this debate could be deemed to be. It’s just not a debate we want on the Huffington Post.’ 

I was also told that this was a choice made by HP and not by the editor herself, and that I should bring up my concerns about the Foxman piece with the US site.  So in effect HP refused to publish a piece that it feared might be ‘deemed’ to be ‘inflammatory’ – because it criticized the Israeli government, while allowing a leading Zionist to publish a piece attacking Palestinians as a culture that it presumably did not consider to be ‘inflammatory.’  And all the time maintaining the fiction of impartiality.

Of course HP has the ‘right’ to support Israel if it wants, just as it has the ‘right’ to exclude opposing views.   But such rights stem from political choices which HP has taken, and its editorial team should own up to them, rather than maintain the fiction that it is only trying to avoide material than can be ‘deemed to be inflammatory’

No such admission was forthcoming yesterday.  Instead what I got was silence, followed by evasive mealy-mouthed language and politically dishonest, buck-passing pseudo-arguments, all washed down with pompous talk about rights of refusal and impartiality, all of which I can’t help finding just a teeny bit lacking in integrity.

So I leave readers to make their own judgements about my piece, and about why HP’s editorial team might not have found it a ‘good fit’ for their site.

But as far as HP and myself are concerned, it’s over.  We’re done.