Arianna Huffington Disputes Vanity Fair’s Central Allegation

Solid reporting by William D. Cohan.

At the center of “The Arianna Chronicles, Part I,” an explosive feature by William D. Cohan posted today on Vanity Fair, are a pair of articles published on The Huffington Post in 2014. The first was an Aug. 19 item written by former media reporter Catherine Taibi; the second, an article about a partnership between Lulumon and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, published Oct. 25 by Kim Bhasin.

According to Cohan, Fareed Zakaria, whose alleged plagiarism was the focus of the Aug. 19 piece, emailed site founder Arianna Huffington the day of publication to express his displeasure at the article being published, leading to a chain of thunderous events. Cohan uses these examples to underscore what he says was an endemic pattern under Arianna’s watch: protecting her friends to the detriment of editorial independence.

One of Cohan’s sources, a former Huffington Post editor, claims that Arianna’s initial reaction was a desire to fire Taibi, media editor Jack Mirkinson and deputy features editor Gazelle Emami. She then, according to another insider, argued that Taibi and Mirkinson should each be suspended for 10 days, for failing to contact Zakaria for comment:

Mirkinson argued to reduce his colleagues’ suspensions, but was told that 10 days was already a compromise. After employees in the legal and human-resources departments of AOL became involved, however, the suspension was reduced to three days, with pay. Emami “was then raked over the coals for doing what she thought it was her job to do,” this former insider recalls. (“Our handling of the story had to do with the fact that it violated a cardinal rule in the newsroom: to always seek a comment from a subject about whom a negative article is being written,” Huffington e-mailed me. Suspensions were justified, she wrote, in order “to reinforce editorial standards important in the newsroom.”) …

“I think it really speaks to a broader point about Arianna,” explains one person involved, “which is that when powerful people [she knows] get angry about something, it is by no means a guarantee that she will defend her staff. . . . Instead, what happens is often she will forward an e-mail from someone angry about something and she’ll say, ‘Explain this.’” (“I get emails with complaints all the time,” Huffington e-mailed me in response, “some from well-known people and some from people I don’t know.” She continued: “I have never interfered to protect a friend—or an advertiser, for that matter—if the story was accurately reported.”) But she did intervene on Zakaria’s behalf.

Cohan goes on to detail how three other reporters were suspended for the Lulumon-Dalai Lama Center item. He also explains how Huffingtons inserted herself into the editing phase of a January 2015 investigative piece about heroin addiction.

Update (Sept. 8):
And here is Part II of Cohan’s report.