Vanity Fair has taken a look at the case of Peter Daou and James Boyce, two Democratic operatives who claim Arianna Huffington stole their idea for the Huffington Post. That idea? A Democratic political operation masquerading as a news site.
The story doesn't offer too many new details beyond what Daou and Boyce included in their initial complaint, which they filed late last year in New York Supreme Court: That they brought Huffington Post co-founders Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer an idea for a "liberal Drudge Report" shortly before the site was founded and were present at some initial meetings discussing the project, but received no credit or equity for their role. Militating against their case is the fact that they waited six years to raise the issue with Huffington, a period during which Daou frequently wrote for the site.
But one thing Vanity Fair does have is a detailed 15-page proposal that Daou and Boyce circulated to Huffington and Lerer in late 2004 for a site to be called fourteensixty.com, so named for the 1,460 days between presidential elections. The men claim fourteensixty.com is essentially the same thing as the Huffington Post, which, if true, is fairly interesting. Because fourteensixty.com was basically conceived as a con.
Their idea was to create a news site for public consumption with a partisan democratic political messaging operation and consultancy behind the scenes. As Politico's Ben Smith noted, Daou and Boyce explicitly baked a two-faced site—a partisan operation masquerading as a news site—into the business plan in order to deceive advertisers and readers:
The men also envisioned a network of affiliated blogs—an "inner ring"—that would drive traffic through a "constant infusion of energy" as the main site linked to the blogs and vice versa. They proposed blogs devoted to the "Jersey Girls," left-leaning 9/11 widows who were criticizing the Bush Administration, young Jews, the environment, Social Security, and the Supreme Court. But for some reason this "inner ring" needed to "appear to the web public as independent sites" even though they would in fact be coordinated with fourteensixty.com.
And underlying the whole operation would be a political consultancy called 1460, to be run by Boyce, which would handle messaging, fundraising, and internet strategy for Democratic campaigns. Which is sort of like Matt Drudge explicitly hanging up a shingle as a campaign strategist who will pimp stories favorable to your candidate for a fee. Which is a terrible idea. Such transactions need to be kept informal and off the books.
Of course, the Huffington Post doesn't appear to have picked up on any of the Daou and Boyce's deceitful plans: It is unabashedly left-wing, doesn't seem to have a political operation hidden away anywhere, and aggressively brands all of its affiliated blogs. So compared to the stillborn fourteensixty.com, it's on the up and up—unless, that is, you count farming out an entire section of the site to a for-profit company looking for donations from readers.