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Al Eisele

Al Eisele

Posted: June 4, 2009 11:19 PM

Arianna: A Greek Tragedy in Only 6,200 Words


OMG! Did you read The New Republic's cover story on Arianna Huffington? Isaac Chotiner devastatingly deconstructs her in a mere 6,200 well-chosen words in his stunningly insightful review of her latest book with its overlong title, Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (and What You Need to Know to End the Madness).

His thoughtful and thought-provoking review, cleverly entitled The Puffington Host: The Many Versions of Arianna Huffington, and Their Consequences, only took me an hour and a half to read, and I'm a speed reader, although there were a lot of words I had to look up like "empiricism," "taxonomic" and "zeitgeist." But it was definitely worth the effort.

For example, I learned that the Greek-born Huffington, nee Stassinopolous, is nothing more than a modern day Trojan Horse who is determined, in her role as sole proprietor of The Huffington Post, to put us Jurassic journalists out of business. She is, as he states so effectively, the "personification of the hyperactive up-to-the-nanosecond news-and-opinion universe of the web."

Wow, and here I've been unwittingly contributing to this sinister Siren (from Greek mythology, a creature with the head of a female and body of a bird who lured sailors to their death on the rocks surrounding her island with her charming songs, just what Arianna tries to do), since its inception in 2005.

I've unwittingly enabled this woman, who blames "a craven and soulless media" for, in the words of that dour Danish existentialist Kierkegaard that she approvingly quotes, for reducing everything "into flat, surveyable, two-dimensional world events [so that] we can know exactly what has happened in the last twenty-four hours and what precisely to think about what has happened."

If I'd known that, I would never, NEVER, have agreed to contribute to HuffPost, even though I am unpaid because I want to be noticed by her nine million readers. Thank God somebody has revealed that the Greek goddess of the new media is a "right-wing contrarian" who "is adept at recognizing and navigating the social and political currents, a zeitgeist artist, even though she has written nothing that requires her to be taken seriously as a thinker."

In fact, as Chotiner so convincingly explains, Huffington's twelfth book, "is only the most recent example of [her] tireless ability to inhabit different places on the political spectrum," where she reigns as a noisily progressive "player [who] now reigns supreme in cyberspace and in the Beltway, even if she is not "intellectually consistent."

Be that as it may, he shrewdly identifies two consistent strains in her writing, which are her "limp spirituality" and her "frequent and caustic criticism of the Fourth Estate," by which I think he is referring to us ink-stained wretches who don't even know how to tweet or Twitter. Once again, she has to fall back on Kierkegaard -- and remember, he's Danish, not Greek: "In the world of opinion, newspapers demoralize men, by disaccustoming them from having an opinion of their own, and from developing themselves by carrying it in the face of opposition to the opinion of others, and by accustoming them, on the other hand, to have the guarantee for any opinion they may have that a significant number of men have the same opinion."

Naturally, Chotiner brings up Arianna's marriage in 1986 to wealthy California Congressman Michael Huffington, whom she divorced in 1997 before he announced that he was bisexual, after which "her columns also became increasingly, and shrewdly, non-partisan." And, of course, we all know that she briefly allied herself with Newt Gingrich while making "herself over as an enemy of power, a tribune of the people, an A-list populist," and even ran against Arnold Schwarzenegger in California's 2003 recall election.

Huffington's latest book, Chotiner astutely explains, "is less genuine and more tiresome." She is, he declares. "one of those writers who mistakes press criticism for the entirety of social and political criticism. Her condescension toward the press is endless: 'Someone please alert the media: not every issue fits into your cherished right/left paradigm. Indeed, that way of looking at the world is becoming less and less relevant -- and more and more obsolete. And more and more dangerous.'"

Right on, Chotiner. Tell it like it is. And your readers will only have to slog on for 3,136 more words to learn that you worked as an editor at The Huffington Post in 2007 for less than a month before you left "because of a misunderstanding over the nature of the position I was hired for." I'm sure there is no connection between your unhappy departure from HuffPost and your statement that "I have gone into this taxonomic detail to give a sense of the dizziness of the site, its attention-destroying cascades, its addiction to entertainment... and its adoration of celebrities."

Finally, FINALLY, you compared her to P. T. Barnum, writing that it may be "a mistake to hold Arianna Huffington to any real standard of intellectual or journalistic rigor. She is just an adventuress, ideologically and socially; an impresario, with a practiced eye for the main chance; a media phenomenon, which is among the thinnest phenomena of all; a nimble brand."

God, I wish you'd written that about me.