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Four months ago, AOL gave to Arianna Huffington $315 million and the keys to its news operations as part of their purchase of her progressive internet behemoth. At the time I contended that the most significant news property to be controlled by the Huffington Post‘s progressive machine was the least known,, a network of 500+ hyper-local websites covering 800 communities which combines national/regional information with local community news editors filing stories and updating community-specific within the communities they serve. The Patch network is concentrated mostly in the larger states.

Ms. Huffington agreed with my assessment, the day after the sale’s announcement she told Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent, that is indeed a major part of her 2012 Election plans. 

 “We are going to dramatically accelerate this in 2012,” said Huffington, who discussed the idea on a conference call yesterday with employees. “We will have thousands and thousands of people covering the election. Covering the Republicans. Covering the Democrats. Just being transparent about it.”

 Aye, there’s the rub! Is it possible for Ms Huffington to cover both parties and fairly? Her track record says no.  The danger may not be in the way stories are reported but which stories are reported.  The Huffington Post knows who their major constituency is, and bows down to them all the time as in the case of booting Andrew Breitbart off their front page of featured columnists because of pressure from self-avowed communist Van Jones and his Color of Change organization.

At the time the Huffington Post disingenuously claimed that it was all Breitbart’s fault because he said “nasty things” about Van Jones and his efforts to pressure Huffington, in an interview with the  Daily Caller.

Andrew Breitbart’s ad hominem attack on Van Jones in The Daily Caller — right down to calling him a “commie punk” and “a cop killer-supporting, racist, demagogic freak” — violates the tenets of debate and civil discourse we have strived for since the day we launched.

That’s interesting because while dumping the Breitbart column, Hufpocontinued to feature masters of the “ad hominem attack” on their front page such as Bill Maher who in a stand-up routine called Sarah Palin “a cunt” and constantly calls tea party protesters by the sexually charged term “tea baggers” Other Huffington front-pagers include MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan who recently called TV’s Glenn Beck a snake oil salesmen and scumbag, and Michael Moore who attacked all Americans by saying we are “a society of ignorant and illiterate people.”

The major difference between those “ad hominem attacks” and Breitbart’s is not only a conservative but one who generates much attention; those other attacks came from progressives.  Arianna did not want that conservative voice to get even more attention.

Immediately after it was announced that Huffington would be taking over AOL’s news operations, Politics Daily columnist Matt Lewis resigned because of the biased politics of his “new boss” Arianna Huffington.

….I have no personal issue with Ms. Huffington, and that I am not a “Huff-hater.”

However, writing a guest post is different from working for someone, and it occurs to me that AOL has vastly underestimated the public perception (I would argue the accurate impression) that Huffington is a far-left liberal.

Obviously, I am more than happy to write for a mainstream news outlet where differing opinions are allowed to flourish, but I am less comfortable with the notion of being permanently affiliated with an overtly left-of-center (sometimes activist) outlet.

As a conservative (albeit, an admittedly iconoclastic one), it is vital that I maintain the freedom to call them like I see them.

Now imagine that overtly left-of-center (sometimes activist) outlet running the news in 800 small communities. As even national politics is grass-roots oriented, Ms Huffington is trying to have a significant influence on 2012 and elections to come.

Yesterday Huffington announced her strategy to the “Patch” world.

 The timing couldn’t be better. Patch will provide an unprecedented infrastructure for citizen engagement in time for the 2012 presidential election, with a focus on community and local solutions. And it will exemplify our belief that a left/right approach to news and politics is outdated. Patch pages harbor no ideological or political slant. Which is not to say that we expect them to have no political content. Bloggers will be free to post their views on a range of subjects – from politics to entertainment to local issues. These features will allow Patch readers to instantly put a finger on the pulse of their community.

Ms Huffington may claim that her sites believe “a left/right approach to news and politics is outdated,” but that claim is not substantiated by the facts.  Conservatives should be aware that the end may be a bigger progressive weapon than the Huffington post itself.

My last “pre-blogging” job in the hyper-local media business, as marketing director of PGA the company that produces newspaper-distributed  magazines such as American Profile and Relish. Our distribution was mostly in local community papers housed in rural markets. I can assure you that those small papers, may have tiny circulations, but are better read and believed than their “big city” markets.

These are the towns where everybody knows everybody.  Or as we would tell potential advertisers, if you are not related to the Mayor, or good friends with the Mayor then you probably are the Mayor. That’s the secret behind their superior readership and why will have heightened readership and believability also.

The Patch sites contain editorial written by “next-door neighbors,” cover the High School Football games, local weather, store-openings and other announcements. Local news affects people’s lives today. On a national basis people readers may be interested in the national debt, but their lives are more directly and immediately changed by the announcement on their local Patch site that “garbage pick-up day” is moving from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Allow me to suggest that Huffington will do the same thing with Patch as she does with the big site, i.e. publishing only certain stories and writers. During national and state campaigns, Huffpo’s biased editorial can be written and distributed according to the specific issues concerning that specific area. A small town in Long Island can get a story pushing the EPA’s regulation of fossil fuels, but in small town Pennsylvania a community that relies in the coal industry may publish stories about Obama’s work with the unions, and Boca Raton’s site could have a story about how Republicans hate old people and Medicare. It’s all about custom news picked for the right neighborhood and demographic.

Ms. Huffington’s politics and penchant for bias, combined with the untapped power of hyper-local media may very well make a most valuable progressive asset, for 2012 and for many succeeding elections.

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