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The Left's $2 Billion Newsroom: AOL and Huffington Post

Journalism is the "the first rough draft of history," former Washington Post President and Publisher Philip Graham reportedly said. If that's true, the history won't be very kind to conservatives.


It's not news that most of the old media - newspapers, TV and public outlets like NPR and PBS - are liberal. But old media outlets are in trouble and layoffs, closings and circulation declines run like red ink all over their balance sheets.


Sensing the old models haven't been working, the left has been pouring money into new ones. Sure they have ProPublica with its two Pulitzer prizes or the Think Progress blog or long-standing lefty investigative journalism operations at the Center for Public Integrity or the Center for Investigative Reporting.


But the crown jewel of left-wing journalism is the Huffington Post, run by conservative-turned liberal Arianna Huffington herself. Since it was launched in 2005, HuffPo, as it sometimes called, has risen to become the most prominent left-wing site. Every day is filled with incessant attacks on conservatives, PR for Team Obama and enough gossip, humor, entertainment news and goofy videos to package them together and wrap it with a big red bow.


That was until February, when AOL purchased Huffington Post for $315 million and gave Arianna control of the combined newsrooms. She was "named president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all Huffington Post and AOL content, including Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more."


Arianna described the combination as '1 1 = 11' and "truly a merger of visions." It was obvious to all that AOL was turning left faster than NASCAR. Politics Daily columnist Matt Lewis left almost immediately, declaring: "I am less comfortable with the notion of being permanently affiliated with an overtly left-of-center (sometimes activist) outlet."


Four months later, despite some growing pains that happen with any acquisition, that merger is bearing fruit. The combined operation is an online media powerhouse. "Monthly traffic to the Huffington Post has surpassed that of The New York Times website, making HuffPo the most-visited newspaper sites on the 'Net, according to new numbers out from Comscore and a report from Business Insider." The combined site "brought in 35.6 million unique visitors" in May, two million more than the Times.


AOL has a market cap of $2 billion and the newsroom is at least 1,300 strong - larger in size than the Times. And it's all works openly for the left, while the Times pretends to be neutral some days. Huffington Post is also expanding internationally. It's already opened in Canada and is spreading to England and South America.


The AOL and HuffPo sites are more combined than ever. The front page of AOL.com has all sorts of Huffington Post stealthily placed stories on it. After the latest GOP debate, there was an innocuous sounding headline at the top of the page: "The Essential GOP Debate Highlight." That, of course, linked to HuffPost's Hunter Stuart and his take on the debate where he claimed: "Let's see: Herman Cain does not trust the Muslims that are apparently trying to kill him to run the Department of Health and Human Services. Michele Bachmann gives President Barack Obama a failing grade. Also, everyone hates abortion!" Hardly neutral reporting.


The June 15 front linked to another wonderfully fair story: "House Republicans Cut Food Assistance For Low-Income Families While Protecting Azaleas." Or there's the typical lefty attack on Fox: "Fox Host Accused Of 'Revolting Racism.'" Or the latest on the endless media investigation into Fox contributor Sarah Palin's e-mail trail: "Sarah Palin Emails: Alaska Investigating Potentially Missing Files." They all fell under the new section header "HuffPostAolNews."


It's not just the main AOL or Huffington Post sites, it's some other properties too. Go to AOL Business and find a headline proclaiming "Tax Cuts on Rich Would Leave Middle Class Bleeding." The story argued "the proposed cuts in taxes and spending are likely to benefit the wealthy, while placing an out-sized burden on the country's poor and middle class." A bash-the-rich video accompanied the story.


Or there's the AOL site Black Voices that is hardly subtle about its left-wing stance, claiming in a front page headline that "Herman Cain Defends Tea Party Racism." Only on the link was a saner headline used.


Elsewhere, the website was highlighting Michelle Obama's inexpensive fashion choice: "Michelle Obama Wears $29.99 Gap Dress." There was no evidence Black Voices ran a similar front-page story when The New York Post reported the First Lady had worn a dress roughly 83 times more expensive. "The store's owners would not say how much the first lady paid for the dress, but prices for vintage clothing have risen dramatically as quality pieces have become wildly popular among celebrities and on the red carpet. One estimate for this hand-me-down was $2,500," according to the Post.


That network of sites is only the beginning. Patch.com, once one of the most promising hyperlocal journalism start-ups, was part of the sale. That gives the left a nationwide news network of nearly 1,000 journalists. A January 16, New York Times story showed the fantastic growth that Patch was targeting: "Patch has already set up shop in nearly 800 towns. By the end of this year, it expects that to be in 1,000." As part of that, Patch is staffing up, 'hiring as many as 800 full-time employees at local-news operations.'


And it's already bearing fruit. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's helicopter scandal is the latest example of just how. Here's how lefty Howard Fineman, "editorial director, AOL Huffington Post Media Group," described it. "Our Patch.com had the exclusive scoop on the chiseling chopper story, which later went viral on The Huffington Post."


So now, Huffington Post has a nationwide reporting network looking for stories. Fineman explained Patch is huge in journalism: "As the FCC study duly notes, 'Patch has likely hired more reporters than any other media organization in the past two years.'" Stories that make liberals look good or conservatives look bad will be grabbed by Huffington Post and spread around the liberal "echo chamber." More than ever, the road to journalistic success is to attack conservatives.


With election 2012 coming up, Patch gets to be more openly political. "AOL's Patch Expanding News Network into Three Key 2012 Election Primary States." Think that's accidental? Not hardly: "Now New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina will be getting their very own Patch sites; and the sites weren't chosen at random. Those three are key early primary states in the 2012 presidential election."


Patch is also following the lead of the mother ship and adding an estimated 8,000 bloggers. That will give the site an average of 160 bloggers per state. Combine that with the more than 2,000 that already make up the newsrooms of HuffPo and Patch and the left will soon have a journalistic army 10,000 strong - just in one organization.


That's enough for liberals to both make history and to make sure conservatives are history unless the right tries to combat it.


Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.