This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of playboy magazine.
Few people have gone through as many transformations as Arianna Huffington. She’s been a noted biographer, a political wife, an outspoken columnist and a TV talking head. She’s also morphed over the past few years from a conservative voice and major force within the Republican Party into a Democrat who has run for office. But perhaps her most impressive shift has been from mainstream media to the web with The Huffington Post, her news-aggregating, multiblog brainchild. Formed 18 months ago, in partnership with former AOL Time-Warner executive Kenneth Lerer, HuffPost now gets 2.3 million unique visitors a month, breaks news stories and relentlessly pursues crucial issues long past their mainstream-media expiration date. On the blog side HuffPost features a rotation of more than 700 bloggers–celebs, politicos, academics, pundits, activists, humorists and others–who can post anytime they want.
The tall, aristocratic Greek native was born 56 years ago in Athens–though she is fond of joking that she was born in Fresno, California and “just cultivated the accent so I could be an ethnic minority”–and attended Cambridge University on a full scholarship. She earned a master’s degree in economics and became president of the debating society–only the third woman to do so.
Since then she’s written 11 books, including prominent biographies of Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso, as well as three recent polemics excoriating corporate and government corruption and deconstructing the foibles of our political parties: How to Overthrow the Government, Pigs at the Trough, and Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America. Her newest book, On Becoming Fearless, is a departure meant primarily for the self-empowerment crowd.
Huffington was married to wealthy oil heir Michael Huffington, a Republican who became a California congressman in 1992. In 1994, after spending nearly $30 million of his own money, he lost a close Senate race to Dianne Feinstein. His wife was a high-profile part of that campaign and emerged afterward as a bigger name than her husband. The couple divorced in 1997, but Arianna and Michael, who has come out publicly as bisexual, remain friendly. Out of concern for their two daughters, neither will speak to the media about the other.
Huffington is nothing if not a survivor. In 1995, though still outwardly a Republican, she began to drift toward the center, thanks to some eye-opening from her friend Al Franken, with whom she covered the 1996 political conventions for Bill Maher’s TV show Politically Incorrect.
Eventually she evolved into a Democrat, a conversion that caused some to call her a blatant striver rather than a true believer. “Arianna,” asserted one political consultant to writer Steve Oney in Los Angeles magazine, “is one of the most dedicated persons to developing a public profile I’ve ever seen. She’s gone through some remarkable changes, but the one thing about her is that she’s a consistent self-promoter.”
Part of that transformation included a weekly syndicated political column, a continuing stint on public radio and, in 2004, a campaign for governor of California. She garnered few votes but received lots of exposure.
She established herself as a progressive salonista in Los Angeles, holding regular parties at her Brentwood home to promote an array of ecological, political, philosophical and spiritual causes. She also formed a new group of friends, a staggering and mostly liberal collection of powerful entertainment, media and political types, some of whom now blog on The Huffington Post.
Contributing Editor David Rensin met with Huffington for two long sessions one weekend and another session six weeks later, just as she was adding the finishing touches to On Becoming Fearless. He reports, “Arianna is so heavily scheduled that I never expected her to be on time for our meetings. And she wasn’t. But waiting in her home office, with its fireplace, family photos and hundreds of books, was not exactly torture. She would breeze in, all apologies, perch on the soft couch, her BlackBerry parked discreetly by her thigh and a tall latte easily within reach, and answer questions with calm and focus, the conversation often punctuated by her trademark laugh.
"Arianna insists, The more fearless we are in our lives, the more fearless we’re going to be in changing the world.’ When it comes to her political opinions, she practices what she preaches.”
How does Arianna Huffington view the state of the union?
With a sense of tragedy. Again and again in history you see tragic decisions having an impact way beyond what was obvious at the time. Invading Iraq is exactly such a decision, with consequences that have barely begun to unfold and which demonstrate the bankruptcy of our political system.
In what way?
Although it goes without saying that we can be legitimately outraged at the administration that took us to war–that I blame the president goes without saying–I’m equally outraged at the Democratic leadership for allowing the president to take us to war. I believe tragic historic events happen only when the opposition fails to oppose.
Given the administration’s promotion of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, WMDs, security alerts, a real fear of another attack and the framing of opposition to the Iraq war as unpatriotic, was there any reason for you to think the opposition would oppose, at least at the time?
Yes, because it was a matter of going to war. And remember, we were actually in the majority in the Senate in 2002, if only for a moment. You can forgive politicians for going along on unimportant issues, but to allow an administration to take us into an unnecessary war? Nothing is more immoral.
Democrats are fools and enablers. They let their decision making be driven by fear.
But who in Congress knew it was unnecessary? It took years for accusations that the administration manipulated and ignored intelligence to surface.
The late Democratic senator from Minnesota Paul Wellstone voted against the war in 2002. I’ve had off-the-record conversations with many Democratic leaders who knew better and did not act on that knowledge. I believe the Democrats lacked courageous leadership, lacked a willingness to stand up for what they believed in, for what is right–even if they lost. There is a special blame and a special place in Dante’s Inferno for them.
So why did they do it?
Democrats are fools and enablers. Their spineless leaders went along with the war purely for political reasons: reelectability. They assumed if they opposed the war they would be seen as weak.
Weren’t they right, at the time?
But they let their decision making be driven by fear. There are other examples: Nevada senator Harry Reid closed down the Senate last year to make a point. It was a great example of what the minority can do. Then he went into hiding again. Leadership has to be exercised every day, and the same points have to be made again and again.
During the last presidential campaign, John Kerry went to the New School in New York and gave a speech that was unequivocally against the war. He called it “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” His poll numbers shot up. What did his campaign do the next day? Instead of sustaining the argument, they pivoted to health care. They did not trust their argument enough because the Democratic Party had not come up with a coherent, modern foreign-policy alternative. Plus, the Democratic consultants, who continue to run things in Washington while they lose election after election, still think, It’s the economy, stupid. They think Democrats can win only on domestic issues. That’s completely untrue. That’s 1990s thinking.
What’s modern thinking?
Present a coherent foreign-policy alternative today. That’s the way for the Democrats to launch an appeal to red staters, those who are for America first, who are about homeland security. It would create a whole new alignment of red states and blue states. That potential shift, for me, is the most important thing happening in American politics now. I’ve said again and again that since September 11 you cannot be a majority party without addressing the fundamental issue of whether you can keep us safe. Before anybody will listen to a politician’s 11-point health-care plan, they need to be convinced that politician knows how to protect us.
How did the Republicans manage to convince the electorate?
Karl Rove knows how to take the battle to the enemy and take them on their strength. That’s what I’ve been urging the Democrats to do: Take the Republicans on their perceived strength, which is national security.
You say perceived strength. Why hasn’t President Bush made our country safer?
Bush defines national security as the pursuit of imperial adventures abroad, which actually makes America less instead of more safe.
You clearly disagree with his strategy.
Obviously you beef up security at home, but beyond that the Democrats need to make it clear to the American people that we and our children are less safe because of an unnecessary, immoral, idiotic war that spreads anti-Americanism and beefs up terrorist recruitment every day, allowing our young men and women to become targets.
You’re no longer a lone voice against the war.
What’s interesting is that lately some of the most eloquent writing against the war has come from Republicans, from conservatives such as William F. Buckley and Francis Fukuyama. It’s in the American DNA to be against imperial adventures. The founding fathers warned against them. There are many awful dictators around, and the world would be better off if they were not in power, but it’s not America’s job to go around the world, promoting democracy at the end of a bayonet. By going into Iraq we’ve succeeded where Bin Laden failed: We’ve unified the most extreme elements of the Muslim world and provided them with many nonextreme recruits. And to return to my sense of tragedy and the unseen impact of decisions, we have emboldened and empowered a real enemy–Iran. Whatever happens in Iraq can only be to the advantage of Iran and its theocratic, fundamentalist Shiite majority.
The left-right, red states-blue states way of looking at the country is obsolete. Most of America is purple.
From today’s perspective, why do you think we really invaded Iraq?
It was part of a long-term strategy born in Republican think tanks to take on Saddam and establish a permanent military presence in Iraq. Otherwise why, despite recent talk of troop reductions, are we building more than a dozen permanent military bases there? This should be a major issue in Congress, and it is not. We’re there to stay.
Do you believe the crises that have broken out between Israel and Hezbollah, and in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, have anything to do with our presence in Iraq, or are they just coincidences?
I believe the current crises are a tragic result of our invasion of Iraq. In the run-up to shock and awe, Dick Cheney and his fellow neocons were all over the place, predicting the fall of Saddam would bring good things throughout the Middle East. But now that their predictions have proved tragically wrong, the neocon war shills have been notably absent from the wall-to-wall coverage of the carnage their policies have led to. It’s time for the media to haul in these war triumphalists and ask them to account for the gulf between their rosy predictions and the bloody reality. Remember that, back in the summer of 2002, Cheney predicted regime change in Iraq would weaken extremists, strengthen modernists and enhance the Israel-Palestine peace process. Didn’t quite turn out that way, did it?
As we speak, Bush doesn’t seem that involved in playing the traditional peacemaking role his predecessors played in the Middle East.
What’s happening is chilling. As the significance of the play of current events has increased, the stature of the lead actor seems more dwarfish than ever. I get a very sinking feeling watching this all-hat, no-cattle puppet, who was put in power by the GOP elite back in a very different time, suddenly find himself presiding over a series of cataclysmic events. Watching Bush meander around the world stage is like watching an amateurish production of Shakespeare. We need Olivier, and all we’ve got is this community-theater ham.
Has a U.S. president ever made a more feeble statement than Bush’s unintentionally overheard “See, the irony is what they really need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it’s over”? It says all you need to know about how Bush’s disastrous mismanagement of foreign policy has undermined America’s standing in the world. The Middle East is teetering on the brink, and the president of the United States is reduced to sitting on the sidelines, impotently ruminating on what they need to do to broker a settlement.
Does George Bush strike you as an authentic person who believes in what he’s doing?
I think George Bush is a dry drunk.
What’s a dry drunk?
A dry drunk is someone who has stopped indulging in an addiction without getting to the bottom of its cause or connecting with himself in a deeper way. Instead, he has cut off a part of himself. It represents itself as fanaticism, which means pursuing a certain course irrespective of facts and evidence. You see it in his behavior: “I’m the decider.” He has not dealt with what is actually going on inside himself. He just reacts.
Do you expect Bush to fix things in his remaining time, even if just to ensure that his party stays in power in 2008?
No. I don’t think Karl Rove believes we have to withdraw from Iraq for the Republicans to win in 2008. In fact, they’ve decided to run on Iraq, which is stunning. This president sees staying the course, as he puts it, as the right to keep going even if the course takes us over a cliff. I believe in miracles, but I don’t see a miracle happening. Bush and his administration are too settled on a view of the world. That’s why I’ve called the Bush people fanatics–people impervious to new evidence. It’s incredibly dangerous, and it’s what we are fighting.
Let’s say a Democrat wins the White House. What should he or she do?
First, bring home the troops. Stop bleeding us in terms of lives, casualties and treasure. Remember how often we’ve been told we don’t have the money for universal health care, for good schools, but we have the money to waste hundreds of billions of dollars down the black hole in Iraq?
Then we should rebuild our own infrastructure. Look at the response to New Orleans–incredibly inept, utterly incompetent. And now New Orleans is off the radar for the majority of Americans. The opposition needs to keep it in the forefront because we saw how unprepared we are for an epidemic, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack.
Repeal the permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest at a time of war. Increase the minimum wage. Our public-health infrastructure is no what it could be. Our port and airport security is not what it can be. The National Guard needs to be rebuilt both in terms of people and equipment, which, I found out while talking to Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, gets taken with them to Iraq, leaving their states less protected.
These are all high priorities, and they need to be repeated again and again. But Democrats need to emerge first as the party of national and homeland security. They have a great opportunity to do that now because we all know what a mess this administration has made of it.
But bottom line, isn’t there still great national division over basic issues? How do we find common ground?
I think the left-right, red states-blue states way of looking at the country is obsolete. Most of America is purple. Many of the key issues of our time are what Newt Gingrich used to call 70 percent issues–issues on which you can get 70 percent of Americans to agree. Recently Governor Mitt Romney–a Republican–signed a universal-health-care bill in Massachusetts. The Democrats would have said, “You can’t touch that. It’s ours.” But looking after health care is not just a left-wing issue. We have more common ground than some politicians would like us to think, and we should focus on it by putting the common good first, as opposed to following the individualist, up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy.
We can’t adopt the viewpoint of “Let the Republicans self-destruct.” You have to give them clear reasons to pick you.
Who’s your 2008 Democratic presidential candidate?
I don’t have one yet, but there’s no question Al Gore is speaking out about the environment, against the war and against the administration in passionate and unequivocal terms, with the authority and the sense of outrage he lacked in 2000. I was not a fan then; you can go back and see what I’ve written. But the Al Gore of 2006 is very different. It’s like what Churchill said: There’s something exhilarating about being shot at and surviving. You realize you’re still around. You stop being afraid of losing everything. That puts Gore in a very special category in terms of 2008. That’s what we need.
Whoever runs, we cannot have a replay of 2004. We also can’t adopt the current Democratic viewpoint of “Let the Republicans self-destruct.” The American people are not going to pick you just because you are not George Bush. You have to articulate an alternative. You have to give them some clear reasons to pick you.
Could Gore run again and win?
I believe in redemption, in second chances. I have had plenty myself.
Why don’t you like Hillary Clinton as a candidate?
Hillary Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee. Period. The end. We need to decide that now. She does not deserve it. She has failed to speak out when it matters. She has failed to show leadership on Iraq, and she has kowtowed to an obsolete view of how you win elections, which is that you triangulate, you split the difference. She supported an anti-flag-burning bill. What was that about? She’s had photo ops with Bill Frist and Newt Gingrich. Why? To convince people she is not a liberal? That’s not leadership. Anybody who wants to support her is part of the problem.
How about Senator Russ Feingold?
Feingold would make a good president. He has been willing to be a real leader. I had a small event for him at my home, and David Geffen asked him, “So what makes you think this country is ready for a Jewish president?” Feingold, without missing a beat, said, “You mean a Jewish twice-divorced president.” That he dared to vote against the war and has been willing to speak out at every turn when other Democrats are silent is incredibly significant. That he is at the forefront of trying to clean up our system with the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform bill is significant. This is the kind of leadership we need.
What about John McCain? Will he represent the other side?
Unfortunately, McCain has now betrayed McCain.
He’s made a Faustian bargain by embracing George Bush and appealing to the religious right. At least when Faust made it, he got his part of the deal. I think McCain isn’t going to get his part of the deal. I don’t see McCain becoming president or being embraced by the people he wants to embrace him, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They’re the very people he attacked as agents of intolerance. Mitt Romney will give him a run for his money.
Bill Frist has shot his wad.
You crossed the aisle from Republican to Democrat. That led to suggestions that you’re just an opportunist whose agenda is only about Arianna.
People criticized my evolution more at the beginning. It’s now been 10 years. People know my beliefs. I’ve written four recent books specifically about them. My reinventions have all been organic. Evolutions.
So can we expect you one day to evolve again, beyond your current incarnation?
You mean my views? Well, if I had a lobotomy. [laughs] My Republicanism–and by the way, it has been 10 years since I left that party–was rooted in a misguided belief about the role of government. I was always pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control, so I didn’t have any transformation to make on the social issues. The transformation was in my view of the role of government. I believed the private sector could rise to the occasion and address the major social problems and core political issues such as poverty and inequality. Then I saw firsthand how misguided I was. I saw how inauthentic Newt Gingrich and others were when they talked about fighting poverty. Then I realized he didn’t mean any of it. The private sector was never going to address it. Private giving is more likely to go to prestigious institutions, to the arts, to hospitals. Not enough goes to fight poverty. It’s not as glamorous. People don’t want homeless shelters named after them.
Can someone who doesn’t believe in God be president?
Someone who openly says so?
If asked, yes.
I don’t think anybody expects politicians to have to say they will go to church or synagogue every week. But from the beginning this country has had a spiritual foundation. Accepting the spiritual dimension of our lives, whatever form or name one gives to it, enriches everything we do or say. If you’re a politician who’s uncomfortable with the spiritual dimension, I think you would be deeply impoverished as a leader.
We don’t mean someone who is uncomfortable with the spiritual dimension but rather a happy nonbeliever who says, “I don’t need to believe in a god to be ethical, to care about people, to be a good and responsible human being.”
I have atheist friends, but I can’t imagine going through life without believing in God. The spiritual dimension matters to me because that’s what unites us–no matter what religious or nonreligious form it takes. In every other way we are divided. Our survival is survival of the fittest. Sexually and mentally we’re different. There are social hierarchies. Only spiritually are we all equal. The whole essence of America, that we’re all born equal, is a spiritual statement. People can believe different things, but that has to do with dogma and the particular doctrine they espouse. I called the soul the fourth instinct in my book of the same name, which was deliberately neutral. So I think it matters to the electorate–to the extent it would think this through–that its leaders are connected with that dimension.
According to Kevin Phillips’s new book, American Theocracy, the Bible has greatly affected our government and political process, and not for the better.
I think that’s an important book. [pauses] Some people take certain Bible verses literally. I consider the New Testament an extraordinary document. I read it regularly. I believe it’s a tremendous springboard for public policy. It’s all there. Social conscience is in fact at the heart of the Bible; there isn’t a lot in there about gays and abortion. But to take the New Testament and corrupt it, to use it as an instrument of division and intolerance, is a sin.
What drives people to do that?
Fear drives people to want to condemn a group, because that’s a way they can think more highly of themselves.
We don’t often get to hear about your spiritual side. Is it because you’ve been criticized for your devotion to your controversial spiritual advisor, John-Roger? Some critics dismiss him as a New Age cult leader.
John-Roger is a great friend of mine, and I’ve gotten incredible value from his books and seminars. It’s not something I speak about a lot publicly, but there’s more of it in my new book, On Becoming Fearless, because it’s hard to talk about fearlessness without talking about spirituality. The first three instincts are survival, sex and power. The fourth instinct separates us from the animals and drives us to find meaning in life. I believe that instinct should be the foundation of public policy. It’s hard to talk about it in political terms because people hear different things. But just because it is difficult to talk about spiritual things–that poets are better at this than politicians–doesn’t mean we should give up trying.
Which couldn’t you do without, John-Roger or your BlackBerry?
[Laughs] It’s not either/or. I can have it all.
It seems as if you do. This past May you were named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2006. What does that mean to you?
I think it’s actually very much an acknowledgment of the role of The Huffington Post and the blogosphere and the brave new media world. It’s great to have it.
You had a long web presence with a site that featured your print columns and information on your books. What made you want to make a business out of it?
I fell in love with the blogosphere back when bloggers exposed Trent Lott and were responsible for turning him into the former majority leader. They took the story of his racist remarks at Strom Thurmond’s birthday lunch, a story the mainstream media had ignored even though they were at the birthday party, and the bloggers stayed on it, linked to one another and developed the story relentlessly. That’s the beauty of the blogosphere. I realized then that it would be the greatest thing in citizen journalism since Thomas Paine.
Describe your site.
On the right-hand side of our front page is all the news, presented with an attitude and the aim of keeping certain issues, such as the war in Iraq, in the public consciousness. Deciding what to put at the top of the page is key. In the left-hand column are the blogs. As we speak, we have 700 bloggers who have their own pass-words and can write whatever they want, whenever they want. We see it when everyone sees it. Ten of our best blog entries are moved to Yahoo News, and we also send some to AOL. You can have millions of eyeballs looking at what you’ve done.
Even before The Huffington Post debuted, and certainly afterward, you were savaged by some in the press. For example, in L.A. Weekly Nikki Finke wrote, “This website venture is the sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable.” Obviously, you survived spectacularly.
At first people thought the celebrities’ blogs would be what everyone talked about, but it turned out that a lot of the blogs that made news were not necessarily written by big names. We also had breaking news: Lawrence O'Donnell revealed Karl Rove’s role as a source for Time’s Matt Cooper in Plamegate. And we have great satire. Our willingness to laugh at ourselves and not be so earnest–even though we’re deathly serious about what we believe–was the right mixture. My attitude was “Wait and see.” Criticism can’t kill you.
Did you sign up celebs at the beginning just to get attention?
I didn’t see it that way at all, honestly. Sure, the boldfaced names drew traffic, but I didn’t invite a single celebrity I didn’t want to hear from.
That’s not exactly answering the question.
I thought the celebrities I invited to speak had interesting things to say. The online world was supposed to be for people with no other way to get their voices heard. I brought people who had multiple ways to get their voices heard. At first there was criticism, but the blogosphere soon realized this only expanded its power. For instance, I think John Cusack has written some great stuff. Even if he were John Smith, it would be great. If he were not a boldfaced name, it wouldn’t be any less good.
Did bloggers such as Nora Ephron, Walter Cronkite, Larry David, Al Franken, Christie Hefner and Steve Martin come to you, or did you go to them?
A lot come to us now, but they didn’t at the beginning, of course. I asked Steve Martin, for instance. Some weren’t clear what blogging was. I told everybody they were in complete control of what they said, more than in any other medium. Even if you write a column for The New York Times, you’re going to be edited. Our approach was very attractive. People also loved the instant gratification. We also made it clear we’d take submissions in any form. Larry David would call me from his trailer while he was taping Curb Your Enthusiasm and dictate his blog. Presidential historian Arthur Schlesinger doesn’t have a computer. He faxes his comments to me, and we post them. Norman Mailer, who is on deadline with his books and hasn’t done a lot online, wrote something when the Newsweek story about the Koran being flushed down the toilet appeared. We injected it instantly into the cultural bloodstream, and he saw, as so many of our other bloggers have seen, the medium’s impact.
Has your vision been vindicated?
There are never any guarantees when it comes to new ventures. Not in our wildest dreams did we think we would get the reception and have the impact that we have. Part of it, as I look back, was timing. There’s a tremendous advantage in being first with something.
As Matt Drudge was when his focus on the Monica Lewinsky affair woke up the mainstream media to the power of the web.
The power of the web is one thing. The power of the blogosphere is another. The Drudge Report is not a blog; it’s a news site. There’s a difference. We were the first hybrid of news and group blog. The blogosphere is also a very different model than the mainstream media.
In the morning do you get up, pull out your hair over the latest Bush fiasco, have breakfast and go to work? What’s your routine?
I still have my hair. [laughs] I work here at home. Upstairs are the Huffington Post editors who work on the site blog. Our main office is in New York, where news, advertising and business are run by my partner, Ken Lerer. Here the shift runs from seven in the morning to 11 at night, seven days a week. I’m up at six a.m., and I have a latte in my hand by about 7:15. I take my two daughters, who are 14 and 16, to school. In the meantime I’ve talked to my editors about what we will have on the front page that morning, and I do research for what I’m going to write. I’ve already looked online before bed the previous night to get an idea of what the next day’s news will be. I read the New York Times website and CNN.com, Drudge and all my favorite blogs–Kausfiles, Firedoglake, and Crooks and Liars. In the morning I look at the ABC News blog The Note.
How worried should the mainstream media be about the blogosphere?
There’s definitely a new sheriff in town. [laughs] Part of the role of the blogosphere is to hold the mainstream media’s feet to the fire. There is so much conventional wisdom being peddled as genuine wisdom. Part of what I see as our role at The Huffington Post is to keep exposing empty rhetoric. The key is accuracy. We have a huge responsibility to be 1,000 percent accurate in the blogosphere because one of the mainstream-media attacks we get is that we aren’t accurate.
What are The Huffington Post’s ground rules?
If bloggers write something that is inaccurate, they have 24 hours to withdraw it, apologize and correct it. If they don’t, they have their blogging privileges revoked. Out of more than 700 bloggers, we’ve had only two cases in which someone has had to correct something.
How do you test for accuracy?
That’s the great thing about the blogosphere: The checking comes from other bloggers. The minute something inaccurate is posted, you know it. Part of being a member of this online community is course-correcting and accepting mistakes.
Newspapers and magazines are clearly suffering from circulation and advertising problems. Can they survive?
They’ll evolve, but first some of them need to stop being dismissive. We have Bill Keller from The New York Times saying that reading blogs leads to self-absorption. It makes him sound out of touch, as though he’s missing the point of this huge journalistic revolution, which like any new beginning is fraught with risks and is evolving. It’s not a finished product.
Wouldn’t Keller take exception to the phrase journalistic revolution or at least the word journalistic?
He shouldn’t. How can the mainstream media, including The New York Times, sit on their high horse and talk to bloggers about accuracy when they put stories about fake aluminum tubes on their front pages? There’s been a lot of editorial vetting of mainstream media stories that have ended up being deeply and tragically inaccurate. Editors are great, and I love being edited. I’m a great believer in fact-checking. I believe in bringing all those old-fashioned journalistic rules into the blogosphere. [pauses] Look, they can attack us and say we’re not journalists, but the fact that they are firing back is confirmation of the blogosphere’s power to hold them accountable. I know they’re pissed off at us, but I am sure they will adjust. I’m not lumping together all mainstream media writers, of course, nor is the blogosphere a monolith. There are individual blind spots, but collectively this is an amazing phenomenon in citizen journalism and in holding the establishment media accountable. Everybody’s better when there is accountability, when you can’t hide.
Do you want the blogosphere to replace the mainstream media? Where would you get the news you aggregate?
I love the mainstream media. I read four newspapers a day. I can also amuse myself online for hours on end. When I spoke to the American Society of Magazine Editors earlier this year I said the mainstream media have ADD and the blogosphere has OCD. I meant that the major stories the mainstream media cover make the front pages and then die there. The blogosphere’s characteristic is to obsessively cover a story. It’s about results. If you want to achieve something–whatever your passion is–and break through the static, you must stay on the story.
Great reporting and opinion writing are still being done, and there are a lot of very good journalists. The problems are more about keeping access to power. Bob Woodward basically sold his journalistic soul to get access to the Bushes–which went with the multimillion-dollar contracts and big sales–and gave us this “I was there” look at the Bush administration that excluded the most important thing that happened. If those in the mainstream media cannot move beyond being stenographers for those in power and if they are never willing to sacrifice their access for journalistic truth and probing, they should find a different profession: public relations, political consulting or lobbying.
Bloggers are just as susceptible to the problems of the mainstream media; they just haven’t had an opportunity until now to have such access to power.
Won’t bloggers face these same pressures as their power grows?
Yes. The blogosphere is going to get its own test. The more powerful bloggers become, the more politicians court them, and the more money and access are thrown at them. Bloggers are just as susceptible to the problems of the mainstream media; they just haven’t had an opportunity until now to have such access to power. Let’s see how they use it. The proof will be in the pudding. That’s the way of the world. Bloggers are human.
Is that a process you’d like to interrupt?
Human nature can’t be interrupted. Other bloggers will have to keep bloggers honest. It’s a continual process of holding ourselves accountable and working to see who can keep putting the public interest ahead of self-interest.
Do you consider The Huffington Post to be a liberal blog?
Look, I’m proud to be called a liberal when it comes to political views, and I don’t want to pretend the blog is agnostic. But if liberal is being used in a dismissive way to say we’re always going to take one side of the story, that’s just completely untrue. We take on liberals when we believe they’re hypocritical or don’t stand up for what we see as the truth, just as we take on conservatives. Obviously we have a liberal, progressive perspective on politics, life and the news, but we’re in no way going to cover up for people who are “on our side.” We are completely open to critiquing all sides, and we’ve shown that again and again. We’ve shown it with Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid and countless Democrats. We invite conservatives to blog: Tony Blankley, John Fund, Michael Smerconish and more.
You work at a frantic pace. Do you get any downtime? Do you even want it, or are you just obsessive?
I wouldn’t call myself obsessive. I feel blessed that I love my work. I just don’t have a line between my private life and my work life–and my working from home is symbolic of that.
Define your work.
My work ranges from writing my blog to writing my books to speaking to doing TV. All are for communicating things I believe in, and I do it in different ways to my different audiences, whether they’re Huffington Post readers or TV viewers. I want to convince them all of what I believe, whether it is living fearlessly or getting our troops out of Iraq.
Have you always wanted to convince people?
I have. When I look back at why I so instantly fell in love with the Cambridge Union as a student, it was the spectacle of minds and hearts being moved by words. It was incredibly exciting to me. I’ve always felt that’s the way you change the world.
Why do you want to change the world?
[Laughs] Because it’s in a pretty sorry state. Even if we can change it a little bit, even if we can move it a little bit…. I believe in free will but also that spiritually we are born with a certain blueprint for our lives. The Bhagavad Gita talks about how we each have our dharma, and whatever ours is, when we connect with it we find our life’s purpose. I fell into my blueprint unconsciously, and I gradually became more conscious of what gave me joy. If you told me you were going to give me a billion dollars and put me in the south of France and I could have unlimited money and go to parties and buy all the clothes and jewelry I wanted, I’d say, “Oh my God! That sounds like a miserable life.”
Wait, can’t you more or less do that anyway?
Yeah, but you know what I’m saying: to do nothing else and just have what people would call fun. Yes, I live in a beautiful home, I wear clothes I love, I take great vacations. That is great, but it’s the background of my life. What’s in the foreground of my life gives me joy and purpose.
So you would do what you do now, anonymously, out of a modest apartment?
I think I’m more effective doing it the way I’m doing it.
What are your top three life priorities?
First, my children. It’s a job no one else can do for me. Second, my work through The Huffington Post, my books and my other writing, communicating what I believe in, whether on a political or personal level; the two are very connected. Third, to continue to work on myself. I take that very seriously. It involves meditating and understanding myself better. The Greeks said, “Know thyself.”
When I try to understand myself, I always go back to my relationship with my mother. She gave me the greatest gift we can give our children: unconditional love and a belief in them that lets them know they can try anything and that if they fail, we won’t love them any less. She died in 2000 and was utterly fearless. She was entirely self-taught; she’d never been to college. She joined the resistance in Greece. She left my father when he started cheating all over the place. Without any money or a job she took her children and left.
When I was a teenager I saw a picture of Cambridge in a magazine. I lived in Athens. I told my mother, “I want to go to Cambridge.” She didn’t say, “Don’t be ridiculous.” She said, “Let’s find out how we can get you there.” She found out, and I started taking my general certificate for education at the British consulate in Athens. Then she said, “Let’s see if we can go and see Cambridge.” We got on a plane and went to see Cambridge. It was almost like, “We have to visualize where you want to go and see if you can get there.” She was there at every stage of my life, and there was no way I would have done what I did without her.
But she wasn’t like that just with me. She showed me how to be in the world. She could not have an impersonal relationship. Whether just out shopping or meeting you for the first time, she would immediately connect with you. If the Federal Express man or the president of the United States came to the door, she’d say, “Hi, come in. I just cooked something; come in and have something to eat.” She taught me not through words but through her actions. She was an amazing original. I feel unbelievably blessed.
How have you changed as you’ve gotten older?
I think I’m constantly fine-tuning. I’ve become less reactive. I’ve become less judgmental. I’ve become less afraid. Staying centered doesn’t just happen. You’re in the middle of the world, of business, and there are challenges. You need to make that a priority. It’s a journey. Both life and the blogosphere are about the journey, but you also want to achieve results. You want to get to the tipping point. It takes obsessiveness to get to that tipping point.
You’ve been single for a while. How important is having a man in your life?
I’ve had relationships. I’ve been dating. It’s fun. It definitely enhances the rest of life.
What kind of man can’t stay away from you?
Why don’t you ask what kind of man I can’t stay away from? [laughs] What I love in a man are the things I love in a blogger: passion, persistence, a sense of humor, a light touch about who they are and what they write, the opposite of taking themselves too seriously. It’s the kind of man who makes me like myself best when I’m with him, who brings out the best in me. It’s kind of the opposite of the romantic ideal of falling head over heels and losing yourself. It’s the kind of man who helps you find yourself.
Otherwise, I have no guidelines as to how tall, how old, rich, poor. I don’t have a physical type. The men I’ve been with have had absolutely nothing physically in common. The first love of my life was substantially shorter than I and twice my age. I’m drawn to who they are, their energy and intensity.
Do you date the rich guys who come to your house for big parties? Do they want to date you?
Shouldn’t we have a ground rule that we’re not talking in detail about my private life? [laughs] There are no guidelines. Tall, short, rich, poor, younger, older. No guidelines.
Have you ever met anybody online?
No, but I have friends who have met people online, and they’re very happy with each other. I don’t make any judgments about it.
Is it tougher to date when you’re such a public figure?
It’s tougher to juggle. A relationship takes time, especially in the beginning, when you spend hours on the phone discovering each other, and then you wake up in the morning and curse yourself. [laughs]
For giving away all the intimacies in the dead of night?
No, for being on the phone instead of sleeping, and you have to get through a day exhausted.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
I see somebody who will never have plastic surgery. I’m lucky to be in a profession in which you can keep doing what you’re doing and it’s not a function of how many wrinkles you have or how old you are. So I can age gracefully. I feel there is no part of my life I would like to go back to, no age I’d like to go back to.
Do you make enough from The Huffington Post and writing books to support yourself?
And from speeches and also the divorce settlement, which is private, but it’s primarily child support.
You said you like men who don’t take themselves too seriously. How seriously do you take yourself?
I take what I do seriously, but I don’t think I take myself seriously.
If the Democrats return to power in this election, should they impeach George Bush or be more forgiving and just move ahead to neutralize him legislatively?
He deserves to be impeached.
But should they actually do it? Won’t it distract from the healing?
Before the elections we should not distract ourselves with thoughts of impeachment. All our energy should be focused on electing a Democratic Congress. Once that’s done it’s incredibly important to stop any more harm from being done. Bush still has two more years in office. He has committed many impeachable offenses. If the past is any indication, he will keep doing harm, no question about it. Once we have the votes, when we have the seats and subpoena power, we should bring it all out, absolutely. We have the truth on our side, the facts on our side. Part of what’s important in running the country is to prevent the current administration from doing more harm. Paralyze them. Otherwise, for me, George Bush is over. We cannot sit here and endlessly debate how bad Bush is and not change anything. If we’re serious about wanting to change, we need to challenge our own side to stand up. We need to look forward.