"Give me the free labor of one black person for one year; I would be a rich man.
Give me the free labor of a dozen black people for one year; I would be a very rich man.
Give me the free labor of millions of black people for 250 years; I would be America!"
--Ralph Wiley, Author, former Writer Sports Illustrated
In February (during Black History Month) Arianna Huffington, a former conservative turned liberal who made millions attacking and exposing corporate greed in “Pigs At The Trough” (a New York Times best seller) recently sold the Huffington Post to AOL/Time Warner for 315 million dollars. In spite of the giddiness surrounding the sale, her dismissiveness of 9,000 some bloggers--who contributed to building a site worth several hundred million by writing for free--has caused many to question her unflappable and highly publicized commitment to economic justice.
This week in Nashville, while Ms. Huffington, the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post discusses how “The Media Speaks to the Middle Class” at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Ray Winbush, former Director of Fisk University’s Race Relations Institute and author of “Should America Pay?" is lecturing just across town at Tennessee State University about Reparations for the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
To some the timing and location of the two programs is ironic given that traveling between the two universities is akin to crossing Nashville’s great economic, racial and cultural divide. But even more ironic is that in spite of the differing program topics it seems that race, privilege and free labor could very well be central issues in both presentations.
In “Pigs at The Trough”, Huffington exposes the sins of corporate greed and brilliantly articulates how Americans have “scandal fatigue” and that often times the dollar figures associated with corporate excess are too enormous for people to wrap their minds around and that the public becomes numbed by the dollar figures. For example Ms. Huffington explains to readers how a 3.9 billion dollar bonus for an Enron Executive could have instead been used by Habitat for Humanity to build 83,691 homes at the cost of $46,000 each.
To help those who have trouble understanding why Huffington's values are being questioned as to whether or not she is being a little 'piggish' herself, let's apply her formula above. What if instead of keeping $315 million from the AOL sale that as a gesture of thanks (and to demonstrate the wealth sharing she promotes in every interview and article written) that she rewards the 9,000 bloggers with a one-time $1000 check. After compensating 9000 bloggers Ms. Huffington would still have $308 million dollars left to spare and more followers than a pied piper.
Granted that with the demonstrations from Egypt to Wisconsin (of which Ms. Huffington is a vocal advocate) there have been other matters more pressing but it does appear as if Huffington has been given a free pass by political pundits and comedians like Bill Maher and John Stewart—both who would normally have a field day with such blatant contradictions. Perhaps the reason is because both comedians—like numerous left leaning politicians and celebrities on both coasts who have been charmed by Arianna--also provide regular content featured on Huffington?
Almost immediately after the AOL deal was announced, a Facebook page was launched called “Arianna Can You Spare a Dime?” where over 1,000 bloggers began to swap stories about their experiences with Huffington. And last week, The Newspaper Guild, a union of US media workers with 26,000 members called a boycott and urged contributors to The Huffington Post to stop providing free content to the news and opinion website.
Yesterday, The Huffington Post rebuffed the boycott saying most of them are "thrilled to contribute" despite not being paid. According to Mario Ruiz, a Huffington Post spokesman, “most of the bloggers are not professional writers but come from all walks of life."
One such blogger is Mayhill Fowler who broke two of the bigger campaign stories of the 2008 election for the Huffington Post (and who sold her car in order to afford being able to follow the candidates) and as a result was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize by the Huffington Post. Apparently Fowler was ‘professional’ enough to get nominated for a Pulitzer but not enough to get paid for her articles. After several e-mails with Huffpost Publishers requesting she be hired, Fowler stopped contributing to the site last fall.
Another Huffington Post blogger I spoke with--who is a published writer/journalist (who asked to remain anonymous) questioned the Huffpost’s assertion that bloggers write for the exposure and for the prestige. After asking the Huffington how he would find out how many readers his blog received, he was told that “Unfortunately we don't keep stats on all of our pages.”
According to this blogger: “shouldn’t those who are being asked to appreciate the "platform" Huffington provides in lieu of pay, at least find out how big that platform is?” And would a company pay several million dollars for an on-line company that didn't provide stats for advertisers? Highly unlikely.
Certainly no one is equating slavery with writers contributing for free but according to Dr. Winbush, one of the key points often overlooked in discussions about the slave trade is that “most people are comfortable connecting poverty with slavery but very few are comfortable talking about the actual wealth generated by slavery (free labor).
No doubt there will be interesting discussions at both Vanderbilt and TSU. And while Dr. Winbush is discussing how the raging debate over Reparations is centered around the wealth generated after 200 years of free labor, perhaps someone at Vanderbilt will point out the connection between winning the $315 million dollar AOL lottery and getting something for nothing.
Molly Secours is a Nashville based writer, filmmaker, speaker and a contributing author in “Should America Pay?” as well as a former Huffington Post contributor. She can be reached www.mollysecours.com and http://twitter.com/#!/mollmaud