While I was away this weekend at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, there were a couple of interesting developments regarding a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago. The post was entitled Monkey Cage to Begin Charging NY Times Employees for Access, and was a parody of the new NY Times digital content policy. In particular, I was poking fun at the many caveats that came with the plan, including the Times’ apparently conflicted relationship with Canadians, who were made to pay for access before anyone else, a policy that still seems to me like something out of Southpark. But I digress.
Anyway, Ezra Klein apparently like the post, tweeted it to his 60,000 followers, and a lot of people ended up reading it. So through the end of March, that was basically the story – I wrote something, a bunch of people read it, a good time was had by all, and everyone moved on to other things.
This Friday, however, Arianna Huffington unveiled her April Fool’s Day joke, a post entitled A Word About Digital Subscriptions to The Huffington Post. The first line:
Today marks a significant transition for The Huffington Post Media Group, as we introduce digital subscriptions for employees of The New York Times.
You can kind of guess where the rest of her post goes (this is a fairly obvious joke, and there are only so many directions you can take it); if you are particularly interested, you can see this piece by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal for a comparison of the content of the two posts. I was, however, especially pleased to see the following quote from NY Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy, my new favorite person at the NY Times, who when asked about the Huffington Post parody piece, responded that it was
“funny, but it was funny the first time around.” Murphy noted that the political science blog The Monkey Cage already did a very similar mock pay wall—in which it said it would charge Times employees for access—on March 20. “It seems that the HuffPo even aggregates their quips,” Murphy said.
Despite my concern that I was going to be stalked by reporters seeking comments on the matter as I roamed the halls of the Palmer House Hilton, it turns out that Murphy’s comment was probably just part of a larger ongoing clash between the Times and the Huffington Post (although that didn’t stop me from getting a kick out of the fact that at least someone at the Times had read my original post…). Nevertheless, I still want to take this opportunity to make the following two points.
First, I think James Taranto’s observation at the Wall Street Journal is correct that
Huffington isn’t guilty of plagiarism here. Although her post is indistinguishable in concept from Tucker’s, it does not duplicate his language. (She does lift some language from the Sulzberger letter, but parody isn’t plagiarism either.) It’s quite possible that she never looked at TheMonkeyCage.org; the idea is obvious enough that it’s easy to believe two people would come up with it independently.
But even more importantly, I think this points out a new opportunity for synergies at AOL-Huffington Post. After all, if Arianna and I are already on the same wave length regarding NY Times parodies, just think of all the other things about which we might be simultaneously thinking. Thus as exciting as this new AOL-Huffington Post venture is likely to be, it probably pails in comparison to the juggernaut of an AOL-Huffington Post-Monkey Cage internet venture. I’m already working on possible names: “The Huffing Monkey”, “Caged America”, or “HP-TMC-AOL” (although the last one sounds suspiciously like a printer). So what do you say, Arianna? If you can’t beat them, why not join them? And just to be clear, by “join them”, I mean “buy them out” in the manner we’ve become accustomed to from AOL lately….