Plaintiffs in HuffPo origins suit say founders actively covered up their involvement

Forbes | Capital New York
Peter Daou and James Boyce are suing Arianna Huffington, Ken Lerer and the Huffington Post, saying documents they wrote provided the framework for the site. In a new filing reported by Jeff Bercovici, Daou and Boyce say minutes of a meeting they obtained as part of the discovery process show Huffington, Lerer, Roy Sekoff and Andrew Breitbart maneuvered to conceal the role Daou and Boyce played in the site’s creation:

According to the minutes, Sekoff and Breitbart suggested that Huffington and Lerer deflect questions about how they came together by saying it “doesn’t matter.”

The plaintiffs say the exchanges detailed in the minutes “reflect the deliberate creation of a false and fraudulent ‘narrative’ to explain the origin of the idea for The Huffington Post.”

In February 2011, William D. Cohan dug into the history between these individuals for Vanity Fair; toward the end, he wrote this:

Boyce and Daou’s initial proposal for 1460 [their proposed name for the site] is their strongest argument for having had a role in creating the Huffington Post. But to say it was a “blueprint” for the site is an exaggeration. A third of the proposal recounts the successes of the Kerry campaign in using the Internet and the corresponding success of the Republicans with the Drudge Report. Much of the rest merely describes ideas about the Internet that were much in circulation at the time: for instance, news delivered by aggregating stories from Web sites—a clear take on the Drudge Report, but a practice that was seen in the earliest days of the Internet with such Web sites as NewsNow. Several pages were devoted to “a ring of sites that … will become gathering places online”—an idea that seems not to have been incorporated in the Huffington Post. The idea of celebrity bloggers was hardly original, and although a few people Daou and Boyce suggested, such as Alan Dershowitz and Kristen Breitweiser, did make it onto the site, most of the early bloggers, such as Walter Cronkite, Tina Brown, Mike Nichols, Jon Corzine, Ellen Degeneres, David Mamet, and John Cusack, appear nowhere in their proposal.

A spokesperson for Huffington declined to comment, Bercovici writes.

One scheme that no one might deny: Huffington Post’s plans to become a video powerhouse. It’ll be called HuffPost Live, Joe Pompeo reports, and it will launch in early July. Sekoff ran “two well attended Wednesday afternoon staff meetings” at which he announced the hirings of Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, Alicia Menendez and Marc Lamont Hill.

Like The New York Times, Politico, and The Wall Street Journal, Pompeo says, The Huffington Post is “keen on exploiting the higher advertising rates and web traffic that online video commands.”

Sekoff gave staffers a peek at the strategy:

The site is calling for 12 hours of such programming every weekday produced by a staff of at least 100.

But Sekoff emphasized during his presentations that HuffPost Live is not designed to be a cable news network on the web. It doesn’t have the resources to compete with CNN or MSNBC, so instead it will focus on engagement.

People present for Sekoff’s demos last week described seeing a small video pane next to a big scrolling window on the right-hand side of a screen where commenters will be able to debate issues being discussed by the hosts in real time. Some of these viewers might even be beamed in as guests via Skype.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.