The Wall Street Journal 's Shoddy Journalism on TechCrunch: It's Not About the Personalities, It's About the Principle

Now that the TechCrunch editorial dispute has been resolved, let me turn my attention to the Wall Street Journal's coverage of it.

In the most egregious case of mislabeling this side of Zabar's no lobster "lobster salad," the Journal's front page, above-the-fold story on Saturday sought to paint the situation as a "culture clash" based on "clashing personalities" and driven by "a war of words." It was, in fact, nothing of the kind.

The issue at hand wasn't about personalities. It was about principle; a very simple fundamental principle about conflicts of interest that every journalistic enterprise adheres to -- including the Wall Street Journal, as its former publisher L. Gordon Crovitz points out today. But you wouldn't know that from the breathless opening grafs of the exceptionally misinformed, substance-lite, and anonymous-quote-riddled piece.

Indeed, it takes a full eight paragraphs before the Journal's reporters Jessica Vascellaro and Emily Steel move away from their gossip girl caricature "clash of personalities" narrative and get to -- or at least near -- the heart of the matter: Can someone running a venture fund edit a site covering the tech startup scene? This has nothing to do with personalities, either Mike Arrington's or mine. In fact, until he decided to launch his new fund, TechCrunch lived very happily, without the slightest clash, within the Huffington Post Media Group.

Even when they finally get to it, this crucial element is presented as a quaint kerfuffle marked by "some reporters and media pundits" questioning the ethics of the situation -- as opposed to an elementary journalistic guideline that is vital if you are building a 21st century media company combining the best of the old media and the best of the new.

What we get instead is an approach one would expect from a supermarket gossip rag, not a serious business publication -- even though not a single anonymous source could offer a single specific example of the promised "clash between Arianna Huffington and Michael Arrington."

Equally misleading is the story's claim of "a war of words" between Michael and me. A war of words is defined as a "long argument between two sides" and "an occasion when people or organizations criticize each other or argue in public." Well, the sum total of my 49 words on the matter was in a conversation with David Carr nine days ago -- all of them strictly factual and not remotely critical or argumentative. That's the Wall Street Journal's definition of a war of words?

There is one upside to this shoddy journalism: the reporters got the story so wrong, at least we know they aren't hacking into our phones.