I confess that I took the bait. A few days ago I saw a link in my Twitter stream that offered "Outrageous Claims as To What Went Wrong" with pop singer Katy Perry and comedian Russell Brand's marriage. (Brand filed for divorce from Perry at the end of December, and entertainment journalists have been hyperventilating ever since.) I don't particularly care about why they broke up, but as a rule, I'm entertained by outrageous claims, so I clicked.
Of course it ended up being a damn unbylined Huffington Post item that offered no original reporting or insight, but simply summarized and quoted various other media outlets. Par for the course for HuffPo, but I took pause at this line: "Hollywoodlife reports that Us Weekly is making the bold claim that Katy couldn't cater to Russell's sexual needs."
In other words: The Huffington Post reports that Hollywood Life (to render its name properly) reports that Us Weekly is making the bold claim that Katy couldn't cater to Russell's sexual needs.
Or, now that you're reading it in my column, perhaps it should be: Ad Age reports that HuffPo reports that Hollywood Life reports that Us Weekly is making the bold claim that Katy couldn't cater to Russell's sexual needs. And probably I should credit Twitter in there somewhere.
It appears that HuffPo relied on Hollywood Life's account of Us Weekly's report because Us Weekly doesn't put everything from its print edition on its website. So a hard-working journalist at Hollywood Life apparently rolled up his or her shirtsleeves and actually paged through a copy of Us Weekly so as to quote from it.
Such investigative reporting is clearly too much for The Huffington Post Celebrity channel.
As it happens, I live near AOL/HuffPo headquarters in Manhattan's East Village, so I can tell you that copies of Us Weekly are actually available within the building. Many of HuffPo's staff bloggers are housed at 770 Broadway, a stately edifice that was once a Wanamaker's department store. It's mostly office space now, though there is a depressing Kmart with an entrance on the ground level. That Kmart is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Us Weekly is available at the checkouts.
But maybe the HuffPo blogger behind this Katy-and-Russell post was working very early or very late and was therefore unable to buy a copy of Us Weekly at Kmart? Well, within a two-block radius of HuffPo HQ, there are a couple of 24-hour newsstands that literally never close (not even on Christmas or Arianna Huffington's birthday). Both stock Us Weekly.
But wait. Walking a couple of blocks to buy a copy of Us Weekly might qualify as old-school shoe-leather reporting, which was clearly too much to ask of The Huffington Post in this case.
I've been thinking about web-tastic celebrity "journalism" lately because, as my colleague Nat Ives wrote on Dec. 30, Ad Age got "lots of attention for running an ad-world poll that crowned Rihanna's campaign for Armani the sexiest ad of 2011." Except, as Nat then pointed out, we never published such a thing and no such poll was ever conducted. It was totally made up.
The "source" of the story about Ad Age 's nonexistent sexy-ad poll was the Daily Mail, the second-biggest newspaper in Britain, which got punk'd by an enterprising publicist. A ripple effect ensued, with news outlets around the world quoting from the Daily Mail's false report.
I traded email with Ad Age Editor Abbey Klaassen about Rihannagate last week, and she was still amused and annoyed. As Abbey explained, "The thing that killed me about "our' naming Rihanna's ad the sexiest of the year was that none of these sites that picked it up from the Daily Mail, which wrote its story based on a made-up newswire story from a shady PR firm, bothered to look for a link to the original Ad Age story. If they had, they wouldn't have been able to find one. And then maybe someone somewhere would have actually called us to ask about it. But instead they were just content to cite third-party sources the whole way and, in the end, it was absolutely, 100% bullshit. Do these people have no pride in their work?"
This might be a good moment to mention that The Huffington Post was among the sites that regurgitated its own version of the bullshit story after reading it in the Daily Mail. HuffPo sprinkled some magic link-bait fairy dust on its post by titling it "Sexiest Ads Of 2011 List Includes Rihanna, Miranda Kerr, Models In Skivvies (PHOTOS)." Tipped off to the hoax by Nat's post, HuffPo later deleted its story -- but not before HuffPo readers took time out of their fulfilling lives to post 239 comments, including Sharkcellar's one-sentence review of HuffPo's slide show: "A hardly spooge-worthy collection." (By the way, commenter Sharkcellar is a designated "Superuser," which means, according to HuffPo, that he's "earned the Level 2 Superuser Badge!" As of this writing he's posted 2,975 comments across the site.)
On that note, I'm going to leave you with a headline I just wrote: HUFFINGTON POST CAN'T CATER TO SHARKCELLAR'S SEXUAL NEEDS. Feel free to tweet or otherwise share it. I'm pretty sure it's true.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.