The Greek-born socialite has shaken up American political media with her website the Huffington Post. But by revolutionising news, might she also be in danger of destroying it?by Andrew Keen / August 31, 2008 / Leave a comment
The modish idea that social and political life is now driven by the “network” has been given an intriguing new twist by a couple of contemporary Levantines—Turkish Sufi cleric Fethullah Gülen and the Greek impresario Arianna Huffington (née Stassinopoulos), editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post (HuffPost) website. Gülen was last month crowned Prospect’s top global public intellectual thanks to an online mobilisation of his followers. Huffington, meanwhile, is using her personal network not only to transform online publishing but also to redefine public intellectual life in a digital age.
Born in Athens in 1950, Huffington arrived at Cambridge University in the late 1960s as an awkward teenager and went on to use her large social circle to get herself elected president of the union in 1971. Two years later, she published an anti-feminist polemic, The Female Woman: An Argument against Women’s Liberation for Female Emancipation, which was translated into 11 languages and branded her as the blonde, willowy anti-Germaine Greer publishing bombshell. Times columnist and fellow Face the Music panellist Bernard Levin refused to marry the then conservative Huffington in the late 1970s, a snub which led first to her move in 1980 to the US and then to her 1986 marriage to oil millionaire and then Republican congressman Michael Huffington. This very public union formally ended in 1997, and a year later Michael Huffington came out as bisexual.
Arianna emerged from the marriage with two daughters, a new name, a significant divorce settlement, a Washington DC network, a southern Californian address and a taste for the political spotlight. In 2003, Huffington, who by now had morphed from a Reaganite libertarian into a Prius-driving progressive, decided to run against the moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall election for California governor. (She was polling only 2 per cent when she dropped out a few months before the vote.)
When another southern Californian import, F Scott Fitzgerald, wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives,” he hadn’t imagined a woman like Arianna Huffington. After taking on the Terminator, her next act was even more audacious: turning her sights on American print media, she set about becoming a digital newspaper proprietor—a William Randolph Hearst of the self-publishing Web 2.0 age.
Almost everyone underestimated Huffington when, in May 2005, she again exploited her network of celebrity friends to launch the Huffington Post, a progressive news blog. Back then the blog form…