Arianna Huffington, in addition to being the co-founder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post, also is the author of 12 books, most recently Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe. Huffington will be in Santa Fe at 7 pm, Tuesday, Sept. 16 at the Lensic to kick off Santa Fe Community College's 25th Anniversary Kate Besser Lecture Series.
Huffington can be seen regularly on various news programs, including Larry King on Sept. 10. Earlier that day, we caught up with Huffington via phone, while she was still in California. Here is an edited version of that interview.
SFR: What does your daily journalism diet consist of? How do you stay informed?
AH: First of all I have hundreds of RSS feeds that I get coming directly to my e-mail and blackberry wherever I am. I get everything coming to me, when I'm in the airport, everywhere except when the plane is in the air. And what's important is with everything that comes in, I approach with a certain frame into which I put it, a clear way of looking at the world. And that's really what I see with Huffington Post is we have clear and transparent preferences. But we are not partisan, we will pursue the truth wherever it takes us.
Does it bother you, then, when Huffington Post is characterized as a liberal news site?
I think it's more the whole right/left way of looking at things in the world is obsolete. It's just a lazy way to look at what's happening in American politics I certainly dissuade our reporters from using it.
I wanted to talk about your most recent column that discusses how Sarah Palin is a "Trojan moose"—a distraction from the real issues. Do you ever feel like the 24/7 insanity that is today's media environment is actually hurting, rather than helping, civic discourse?
I don't think the 24/7 nature of the media is to blamed. This is a very deliberate effort by the McCain campaign to distract attention from the George Bush record that [McCain's] policies are simply going to perpetuate. It's clear his campaign wasn't going to win by the way it was going because he was running against the tide: Eighty-two percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track and his party has been in charge for the majority of that time, the whole time in the White House. So they are perfectly happy debating whether Sarah Palin put her plane on Ebay…it's just a great distraction from that which we ought to be debating.
But you're not shy when it comes criticizing the media for not focusing on what's important.
This is exactly the point, and I think that right now is a clear situation where the media is to some extent following the GOP campaign: Rome is burning, everyday we have more catastrophic news for the American people, in terms of foreclosures, job losses, the impact of crumbling infrastructure, what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan all that is going on…and the McCain campaign, with the help of the media, has succeeded in keeping the focus on pigs and lipstick and mooses and the wolf. It's really absolutely amazing.
What's your take on the conflicting views Republicans have that the media has a liberal bias and liberals have that the media lets the Republicans and this administration get away with too much?
I actually argue in my last book, the problem with the media is they act often as if they are Pontius Pilate, by which I mean they claim to be the ones who don't take sides. They see their jobs as just presenting all sides to every story and washing their hands of the truth, instead of seeing their jobs as being the truth seekers. It's true, sometimes the truth is not obvious. But we saw that with the debate on global warming, with the media presenting those who look at the dangers of global warming and those who say global warming is a fraud and not man-made—as Sarah Palin does—as having equal validity and that is simply not fulfilling their duty, which is to seek the truth, wherever that takes them.
You'll be in New York on the 9.11 anniversary. Any thoughts on that tragic event seven years later?
Obviously 9.11 was both a demonstration of the best of America and the worst. The best because we came together as country in an amazing way and the worst because we squandered the opportunity to come together around a great cause. That's the big lesson, we are better than the way we ended up responding…
You recently hosted a panel on how new media is impacting the election. Can you talk about that a bit?
I also wrote a blog post on it. Basically the two launches we had [at the conventions in] Minneapolis and Denver [were about] the way the new media has impacted the elections. Just to give you the idea, in the last election, You Tube did not exist. It was launched in February '05. Many of the new media [sites] are now major players in the coverage of this campaign. It's a completely new game. As a result, the Obama campaign has done a great job of using social networking sites, the Internet to fundraise. The McCain campaign is doing a very good job now using the Internet to push memes and advertising that is very often not run with big dollars behind it on television.
Your new book (Right is Wrong; How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe) takes on the radical right and the impact it's had on our democracy. What is your gut telling you about how this will play out on Nov. 4?
I think a lot will depend on what the Obama campaign does and what the media do. Clearly the McCain campaign turned to the cultural issues because they can't win on the economy, it's a legitimate moment for Obama to show some righteous rage and galvanize voters.
You were a panelist two years ago at The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies annual convention. What do you think about the state of alternative newsweeklies?
I love what alternative newsweeklies are doing and I would like for [Huffington Post] to be more of a place where they can cross content so it can be available to a wider audience because there's such great work being done.
If you could make every American read one book besides yours, of course, before the election, what would it be?
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The reason for that is so often we see that great nations, great empires, fall when they are taken over by trivializations.
Well, it's at least an interesting time to be a journalist.
It certainly is.
This interview is cross-posted with SFR's pop politics blog SwingStateofMind.com: the source for musings and abusings on all things politics from your doorstep to the stoop of the White House.