I have only met Arianna Huffington once. I remember it vividly but my guess is she doesn’t remember it much at all, which says volumes about both of us. The scene was surreal. Huffington and I were in Larry Flynt’s office in Los Angeles, participating in an experimental online talk show Larry was trying to distribute over the Internet. Our topic for the moment was gun control: I was conflicted while Huffington was violently opposed to guns, citing their danger to children, which she thought should over-rule any constitutional argument. I made a point and she replied with the motherhood card, “Well you obviously have never had children.” Point and match for Huffington. Game over.
But I had children. Back then I was the father of two sons, one of whom had died in my arms only a few months before. That memory was still too vivid for me to even respond to Huffington, who took my silence as capitulation, and maybe it was. She easily threw her kids into the battle while I couldn’t do the same with mine.
Maybe she sensed my weakness.
That was long before the Huffington Post was even thought of, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I read this week that AOL was buying the blog for $315 million. What AOL is buying, primarily, is Arianna Huffington in her role as media baron (baroness?) in the Fleet Street tradition, and it is a perfect fit. Huffington is at heart a female Rupert Murdoch, she just came to it too late in life. Like Murdoch she is all about taking a position and relentlessly pushing it to attract like-minded readers and advertisers. The story is everything. Well that and the money.
Did I mention that, inspired by Huffington, this blog, too, is for sale? By her metrics it’s worth $20 million, but I’d take a tenth of that.
AOL grossly over-paid for Huffington, but CEO Tim Armstrong was desperate for an editorial strategy and a team to follow it. AOL has been leaking editors and reporters lately who couldn’t really afford to go but also couldn’t make themselves stay in what had become a directionless sweatshop.
Maybe Armstrong thought he was getting a strategy and a leader with Michael Arrington and TechCrunch last fall, but that isn’t working as Arrington turned recently on Engadget, another AOL property, out of what appears to me to be pure bile over having taken the money and sold his soul.
Huffington’s soul, if she has one, is not for sale, just her snickersnee. But that doesn’t matter because she’ll be a success as editor-in-chief of AOL long enough for Armstrong to sell the whole mess to Google, where Huffington will probably flame and die. But that won’t matter, either, because then she will have been paid twice — once to come and again to go away.
What’s most telling about this deal is the quick departure of Huffington CEO Eric Hippeau, for whom I worked in the 1980s when he was publisher of InfoWorld. There’s no smarter publishing executive anywhere than Hippeau, who in this case took the money and ran, knowing the deal made no financial sense whatsoever.
Still I believe Armstrong was right to do it, because Huffington’s base instincts can only help AOL.
While my words may sound snide I actually admire Huffington (and Murdoch) for their vision, instinct, and relentless execution. She’s a wonder of energy and audacity who gets people to write for free then sells it, keeping the proceeds. I couldn’t do that.
But then I’ve obviously never had children, either.