Two Democratic political consultants, Peter Daou and James Boyce, filed a lawsuit in November claiming they came up for the idea for the Huffington Post back in December of 2004 and have never been compensated for it.
[*Update: Daou and Boyce respond below.]
In an article in February’s issue Vanity Fair takes a long look at the lawsuit and speaks with both Daou and Boyce about what suddenly motivated them to decide 6 years later they wanted to claim piece of the uber-successful site.
Short version: This lawsuit sounds a whole lot like sour grapes.
- In November 2004 Daou and Boyce, devastated by John Kerry’s loss in 2004, came up with the idea for a Liberal Drudge Report and met with Arianna Huffington (“the best networker in the history of the world.”) about it. The crux of their legal case is a memo they penned detailing the site, which they called 1460.com.
- In December 2004 Daou and Boyce attended the Dec 3rd gathering of “the 30 or so influential progressives and Hollywood types” in the wake of John Kerry’s loss, at Arianna’s house during which the initial idea for the Huffington Post was born. (Larry David: “All I remember is Arianna telling me about this on a number of occasions and feeling sorry for her because I thought it was such a terrible idea.”) Boyce and Daou barely spoke. Says VF: “Boyce himself said almost nothing and Daou didn’t contribute much more, beyond a few short comments exhorting the Democrats to exploit the Internet, such as “We need to develop a dominant position within the Internet.”
- After following up with Arianna in the weeks following the famous Dec. 4 party they quickly found themselves cut out of the plan. “In January 2005, Huffington and Lerer hired Breitbart away from Drudge and then “caused the website, based on Peter’s and James’ ideas, initial business plan, and strategic insights, to be developed without the participation of Peter and James.”
- They waited six years to complain about this all the while blogging for the Huffington Post. Yes.
- They say hearing Andrew Breitbart claim that he created HuffPo in a Wired profile last March was the last straw.
- Actually the 1460.com outline [read it here] wasn’t all that original to begin with. Tom Freston, a founder of MTV points out: “the idea for a “liberal Drudge” was not the “most innovative idea in the world” at that time. Neither was their memo.
- Here is the money quote from the entire VF article: “Boyce and Daou’s initial proposal for 1460 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.”
- Arianna naturally thinks this is all bullshit: “Your suggestion, after nearly 6 years, that you understood all along that we were in a ‘partnership’ to create and operate the Huffington Post is stunning. And ridiculous. We never entered into any partnership or other agreement with you—either written or oral—concerning ownership of the Huffington Post. During all these years, you never shared in any financial obligation or risk relating to the Huffington Post. You never participated in any kind of management at the Huffington Post. You never shared in or asked for any financial or management information. Hardly a partnership.”
- Andrew Breitbart also thinks he created HuffPo. But he has no plans to launch a lawsuit.
In a comment on the piece HuffPo’s Mario Ruiz reiterates: “It’s a great story — if you read it backwards. At the end of the article, the writer takes apart Boyce and Daou’s case piece by piece, leaving it in tatters — and rendering everything that has come before it pointless. The only question is, why, when the writer’s own reporting makes it clear that there is no there there, Vanity Fair not only went ahead and published this nonstory but decided to promote it on the cover? The proper response would have been to kill it. And, as we’ve said before, it defies reason and human nature, if they really believed they had created the Huffington Post, that they would wait six years before speaking up. At some point over the last 72 months, they would have contacted us to complain or asked us to credit them somewhere on the site or insisted on getting stock. Something. Anything! But they didn’t, because they know that they have absolutely no claim to ownership.”
Update: Daou and Boyce respond: “The Huffington Post has now attacked Vanity Fair for publishing ‘Huffing and Puffing.’ It is no surprise that Arianna Huffington, Ken Lerer and the Huffington Post wish that Vanity Fair had killed the story, which details my clients’ significant involvement in the creation of the Huffington Post. My clients look forward to having the chance to litigate their claims on the merits in court, and have no interest in litigating the reporting and publishing decisions made by Vanity Fair or other journalists and editors.”