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Getting a peg on Arianna Huffington can be as difficult as getting her to answer a personal question without the topic turning to politics.
Her Zsa Zsa Gabor accent masks a keen intellect. She's a boomer with a millennial's energy and lifestyle ("Frankly, I live online"). Her politics have shifted from right to left, and she has dated politicians from both parties. She even has run for office, garnering 0.6 percent of the vote in California's gubernatorial recall election.
Huffington's latest enterprise has been eminently more successful. The Huffington Post website has expanded from its celebrity-blog-happy beginnings to add several nonpolitical "verticals" (topic pages such as Entertainment and Business, with Books launching soon) and draws almost 4 million unique viewers a month.
She's also a bestselling author whose latest, "Right Is Wrong" (Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95), brings her to town Monday. In the just-released book, Huffington skewers the mainstream media, especially NBC talking head Tim Russert, almost as much as she does the current administration.
Q Is the Huffington Post a model for other websites or is your business model, with its celebrity blogs, sui generis?
A It has morphed a lot since we launched three years ago. We are now a combination. We have almost 2,000 bloggers, some well-known, others just interesting new voices. We have the news aggregation 24/7 with our own attitude. But we have launched other verticals [topic areas with their own Web pages] that are not about politics, like living and business and media. Half our traffic comes from these verticals now. We're really now an Internet newspaper and therefore attract not just people who see the world the way we do, but are interested in other things and sort of discover our point of view.
Q Is there anywhere people can go to get solid, impartial coverage, or is that a thing of the past?
A I think impartial coverage is coverage that is accurate, fact-based and fair. It does not mean you give equal weight to both sides of each story or issues when one of the two sides is wrong: the idea that you talk about the war and have full coverage include Richard Perle or Bill Kristol or other people who basically lied to us to get us into this war and continue lying to us to keep us from getting out, and yet these are the people that the mainstream media are looking to.
Q So, it's like with evolution, giving a creationist equal weight?
A Yes, exactly, that's a very good argument. I'm going to steal that from you [laughs].
Q Putting aside the actual people running this year, do you think America is more ready for a black president or a female president?
A Oh, I think Americans are ready for both.
Q Is the blogosphere taking over the world of political reporting?
A Not at all. I think that what we are seeing is a kind of convergence of the mainstream media doing more and more online and those of us in online media and the blogosphere doing more and more reporting, along with citizen-journalism projects.
Q So newspapers aren't going to die?
A No, no. What we have is the blogosphere is suffering from OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] and the traditional media is suffering from ADD [attention-deficit disorder]. So you have a big story being broken on the front page of the New York Times about the Pentagon mind war, using military analysts to spout propaganda to the American people, and the story dies. And we in the blogosphere are keeping it alive, because it's such an important story. So that's another role that we play. So many important stories die otherwise.
Q You have two hybrid cars. Do you think everybody should own one?
A You know, I try not to be didactic about these things. I try to say what I believe is right and what I'm doing. I have two teenage daughters, and I can barely tell them what to drive, let alone the American public.
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643