You didn’t really think Michael Arrington was going to step out of the suddenly “nuclear” spotlight with a few lamestream media quotes and some tweets, did you? If so, you must not have seen yesterday’s ransom letter in which he says: give me “editorial independence” or gimme my site back.
In short he’s recasting his ethically questionable decision to continue to edit a site about startups even as he invests in them as an affront to his very freedom.
We would call his latest move classic Arrington, except even for a “digital megalomaniac,” this is brazen. Well, brazen or laughable. Definitely one or the other.
When Arianna Huffington told David Carr that Michael Arrington was yanked from the editorial payroll and TechCrunch masthead “effectively immediately,” and relegated him to the role of unpaid blogger, this is probably not the kind of blog post she had in mind.
Along with a still of Spartan warriors ripped from the movie 300, Mr. Arrington issued the following ultimatum:
“We’ve proposed two options to Aol.
1. Reaffirmation of the editorial independence promised at the time of acquisition. Given the current circumstances, that means autonomy from Huffington Post, unfettered editorial independence and a blanket right to editorial self determination. To put it simply, TechCrunch would stay with Aol but would be independent of the Huffington Post.
2. Sell TechCrunch back to the original shareholders.
If Aol cannot accept either of these options, and no other creative solution can be found, I cannot be a part of TechCrunch going forward.”
“Between TechCrunch and AOL, I’m not sure which of the two is the warden and which is the prisoner,” quipped Wired.com’s Tim Carmody. Henry Blodget, the editor banned from securities trading, is always at his best when critiquing Mr. Arrington and he didn’t disappoint in this case:
“To be clear: This is equivalent to an employee who has been fired demanding that, if the division he just got fired from is not immediately stripped from his former boss’s control and placed back under his control, he’ll quit.”
If you’ve been following the controversy, you’ll remember that TechCrunch employees forecasted this kind of grandstanding about “editorial independence” with posts about TechCrunch’s exceptionalism. Although it turns out, it’s not so unique. Following the thread in TechCrunch’s bloggers posts critical of AOL and its executives, “editorial independence” is clearly synonymous with keeping Mr. Arrington on in charge, despite his conflicts of interests.
But Mr. Arrington neglected to mention a third option: Mr. Arrington leaves TechCrunch. According to Mr. Blodget, it’s all about the earnout, baby:
“Importantly, by alleging that AOL has violated a promise that it made prior to the TechCrunch acquisition–that TechCrunch would remain editorially independent–Arrington has already begun sowing the seeds of wrongful termination (or rightful quitting). One suspects that this “promise” of independence did not include TechCrunch setting up a non-AOL-owned venture-capital fund that will invest based on private information gathered by TechCrunch’s reporters, but details, details.. This will make it easier for him to get his full payout on his TechCrunch earn-out, which otherwise he might have to waste a couple of years hanging around for. And it will cheer other TechCrunch employees, all of whom are blaming this mess on AOL, not Arrington.”
Fortune.com’s Dan Primack points out that the real loser in this conflict is Arianna Huffington:
“Various reports suggest that she’s furious with the implicit breaching of AOL’s editorial ethics, and wants Michael Arrington not just banished from AOL editorial, but from AOL (AOL) as a whole. Sounds as if she was blind-sided, except that a source close to the situation insists that she knew about CrunchFund for weeks (but possibly didn’t realize its negative PR implications).
Huffington’s problem, of course, is that it no longer matters which version of the above story is correct. If Huffington knew about CrunchFund and is now hanging Arrington out to dry, then she will deservedly lose the respect of her remaining employees. If she didn’t know, then one has to wonder how much attention she’s paying to her charges. After all, CrunchFund was secret but not that secret.”
It looks like that nuclear situation is about to explode because, as AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher reports, AOL isn’t planning on selling:
“Since the controversy erupted last week, Arrington has reached out to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, as well as others in Silicon Valley, about buying back his popular tech news site. Sources said Arrington needs funding to do so — irony alert! — and told them over the weekend that he planned to use his blogging bully pulpit to force AOL into giving up the site it bought for more than $25 million almost exactly a year ago. But sources said — at this point — AOL is not inclined to sell the site.”
While we await the mushroom cloud, feel free to play along with this new game Betabeat just invented. Read through these memorable quotes from 300 and imagine Mr. Arrington as King Leonidas (you know he’s doing it) and Ms. Huffington as the evil Persian god-king:
Xerxes [Huffington]: There will be no glory in your sacrifice. I will erase even the memory of Sparta [your blog posts] from the histories! Every piece of Greek parchment [old school TechCrunch blog spots, like where you write about startups you invested in with disclosures] shall be burned deleted. Every Greek historian, and every scribe [Arrington fan and blogger] shall have their eyes pulled out, and their tongues cut from their mouths. Why, uttering the very name of Sparta, or Leonidas [Michael Arrington], will be punishable by death! The world will never know you existed at all!
Leonidas [Arrington]: The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king [an aggregationist-in-chief] can bleed.