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Even though there's a Tumblr dedicated to pointing out its questionable headlines, The Huffington Post almost never apologizes for offending people. But when gay rights organizations started complaining about a post bearing the headline "Blake Lively or Sophia Vergara: Who's Got the Tranny Look?" on Monday morning, HuffPost took down the post, and Ellie Krupnick, the fresh-out-of-college associate style editor who filed the original story, issued an apologetic editor's note. Since the post had already been on the site for four days, the damage had presumably been done to the transgender community, and GLAAD scolded the internet newspaper for using the slur. GLAAD also said they'd "reached out to offer to further educate their editorial staff about transgender issues." (This should prove helpful for HuffPost's new vertical Gay Voices, which is devoted to these issues.) This is just the latest slip-up from a young HuffPost editor, though, and the other recent apologies along those lines suggest that there might be a supervision problem in the HuffPost newsroom.

In some cases, HuffPost apologizes in the name of journalism, whether for breaching ethical standards or misreporting stories. In July, the company suspended a young editor named Amy Lee after AdAge's Simon Dumenco blogged about her overaggregating one of his reports. HuffPost executive editor and former Timesman Peter Goodman quickly apologized to Dumenco in an email and suspended Lee for misconduct. In his reply, Dumenco chided Goodman for punishing Lee and blamed HuffPost's culture for encouraging overaggregation and suggested the site has published "hundreds -- if not thousands -- of posts from over the years that are way worse." A month later, HuffPost editors were back on the defensive for wrongly suggesting that Andrew Breitbart doctored a video. Breitbart made a big fuss, and eventually HuffPost admitted to the error, pulled the story and apologized to Andrew Breitbart for misreporting the story.

In other cases, HuffPost defends itself in the name of journalism. GLAAD also complained this past August, when a HuffPost reporter wrote a story about "gay male college students using 'sugar daddies' to pay off loan debt." A flurry of bad press followed that was not dissimilar to the recent flare up over Krupnik's joking use of a transgender slur. GLAAD said the story was "riddled with such shoddy journalism and tired old stereotypes" and "a cheap effort to boost traffic numbers." HuffPost didn't apologize, however, but rather stood behind the piece. "Our coverage of students who sell themselves to manage their college debt has aimed to be sympathetic to their plight – not sensationalistic," spokesman Mario Ruiz wrote in a reply to GLAAD. 

It's important to draw a distinction, here, between HuffPost staff and the site's large network of unpaid bloggers. Some bloggers have the ability to self-publish their posts, meaning an editor doesn't see the content before it's live. When the bloggers have offended readers in the past, HuffPost has removed the posts and pointed to this workflow as an explanation for how the content ended up on the web. This happened last August when former Air America editor-in-chief Beau Friedlander published a post with the title "$100,000 for Glenn Beck's Sex Tape," which a HuffPost editor promptly pulled as well as last March when Jesse Ventura posted an item that rambled on about conspiracy theories, a violation of HuffPost's blogging guidelines. HuffPost associate editors also publish stories directly to the site, but when these posts cause trouble, HuffPost can't mount the same defense they use with bloggers. In the case of the transgender slur, HuffPost didn't even offer an explanation. Krupnick's editor's note reads:

This entry has been removed from The Huffington Post. In reporting actress Sofia Vergara's comments comparing her appearance to that of a transgender individual, the story adopted an inappropriate tone. We regret the error and apologize to anyone who was offended.

Everybody loves to pick on The Huffington Post for sensationalizing, overaggregating and traffic grabbing. And HuffPost deserves credit for admitting to slipping up from time to time. However, the apology trend does reveal some glitches in the site's workflow. The fact that a story making fun of transgender people stayed on the site for days before HuffPost took it down suggests a problem in how senior staffers vet what those editors post. The same goes for editors overaggregating and misreporting stories. We reached out to Krupnick and HuffPost's spokesman for comment on the latest controversy, but neither replied.

Update: GLAAD sent us an update in this statement issued on Wednesday afternoon:

GLAAD will be meeting with the Huffington Post on ways to improve on coverage of transgender people and issues. GLAAD has recently been working with the 'Black Voices' and ‘Gay Voices’ sections of Huffington Post to highlight stories from Janet Mock, Ja’briel Walthour, Denise Brogan-Kator, among others. 

“Articles like this illustrate the unfortunate dearth of accurate images of transgender women available today,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD. “Removing the post was the first step, and GLAAD looks forward to working with editors to educate readers about transgender Americans today and ensure better judgment is used going forward.”

Disclosure: I worked as an editor for The Huffington Post from early 2009 through 2010.

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