Under normal circumstances it would be easy to brush off a bad hire at The Huffington Post because, with a few very notable exceptions, the site doesn't offer the kind of journalism that befits its original promise and pedigree. But HuffPost is still one of the most powerful websites in the world and its owner, AOL, boasts more than a billion page-views a month. This means that when HuffPost screws up in a way that shames not only itself but online journalism in general, it's news. And believe me when I tell you that HuffPost just totally screwed the pooch with its latest unfathomable hire.
Yesterday, The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim announced that the site's new national security fellow would be none other than ex-NFL wide receiver Donté Stallworth. If the idea of bringing a football star on as an ostensible expert on national security isn't enough to make you do a Jim Halpert-style mug to an invisible camera, there's this: Stallworth has a nicely documented history of pushing conspiracy theories like 9/11 and anti-vaxx trutherism and fears about HAARP controlling the weather. Grim says Stallworth has, "a quick mind, an insatiable curiosity and a passion for politics — the necessary qualities of a great journalist.” But there's a difference between being "curious" -- asking tough questions and not easily satisfying your own skepticism -- and being a paranoid loon who chases shadows despite a wealth of logical, contradictory explanations at your fingertips.
This was Stallworth's Twitter feed a few years ago:
Now, look, if you dig hard enough through someone's Twitter feed, particularly going back four or five years, you can probably find almost any kind of embarrassing brain-fart. Twitter is a place where bad ideas, and bad ideas that seemed like good ideas at the time, are often preserved in digital amber. Stallworth and HuffPost claim that the tweets the NFL star fired off in 2009 and 2010 don't represent how he thinks today.
The only problem is that he was still going on wild flights of fancy into the enchanted land of the tin-foil-hatted as recently as late last year.
If Donté Stallworth truly has read up on the realities of these myths he's pushed and has since had a change of heart and head, then that's admirable. The issue is that The Huffington Post just bestowed a good-sized load of journalistic credibility onto someone with a history of holding views that amount to intellectual violence. If you believe nonsense like 9/11 conspiracies, or HAARP weather control, or that vaccinations cause autism, you can't be a credible journalist. Easy as that. The reason: it means you're someone to whom facts don't matter.
We've got enough of a problem with online journalism in general right now degenerating into histrionic misinformation, with the public we're meant to serve often having no idea what's good info and what's bad. The big line in the sand we need to draw is the one that keeps the Alex Jones crowd as far away from reputable outlets as possible. The Huffington Post just crossed that line by hiring Donté Stallworth -- and it deserves as much criticism as smart people can heap on it for doing so.
Also, Donté fucking Stallworth? Did HuffPost literally call every single young, hungry aspiring journalist in the country and nobody picked up?