Huffington Post looked, at the outset, like a car crash waiting to happen. Funded from Arianna Huffington’s own pocket it seemed like the sort of vanity project that would quickly flounder for lack of interest. Indeed David Cohn tells me that pretty much everyone at Wired, where he was working at the time, was convinced it would go nowhere.
Yet now, three years post launch, it is ‘ranked the most linked-to blog by Technorati and the most visited news weblog by Alexa’ (from Wikipedia). It has a roster of commentators from new and old media and, Arianna Huffington said in her keynote address to the Knight News Interactive Media conference last week, it is now expanding to employ reporters to do investigative journalism.
Its bite comes from its political partisanship. ‘HuffPo’ flaunts its left liberal values whenever it can and Huffington herself is outspokenly left wing. In a country where the press keeps its liberal credentials under the bonnet and TV coverage much prefers to be (and to be known as) conservative, such unashamed partisanship is a big selling point.
And Huffington herself manages to combine the savvy of a media mogul with the polemical nous of a stump politician (not surprising given that in her eclectic career she’s been both). Her speech exemplified this. In part a talk you could imagine being given by a Democrat candidate. In part a talk about the failures and flaws of mainstream media.
Indeed the media fits closely within Huffington’s political world view. “The media have a huge role to play” in issues like global warming and Iraq, she said. With Iraq, the media has been guilty of “complicity in toxic recycling of information”, and has failed the public by being “addicted to the idea that every truth has two sides”. Iraq is not a “mixed bag” as mainstream media likes to present it, Huffington told the audience of journalists and techies. To call Iraq a mixed bag was, she said, like your doctor telling you you’ve got a brain tumour but that this should be balanced by the news that your acne has cleared up.
Huffington lambasts both politicians and journalists. Some of her harshest criticism was reserved for Bob Woodward, the “dumb blond” of American media, as she called him. How could a revered journalist, she asked, have such political access that he can write two books about the Bush White House and yet completely miss the big story (i.e. that intelligence had been fabricated and there were no WMD in Iraq)?
The UK has neither a Huffington nor a Huffington Post. We have partisan political websites – particularly on the right (like Conservative Home and Iain Dale’s Diary), and we now have non-partisan online newspapers/magazines like First Post (that deliberately obscures its political outlook, telling its readers proudly that “Our political opinion has been described as ‘ill-defined’ and even ‘all over the place’”). But none that do both. Presumably because our press, unlike that in the US, has always been politically partisan. Are we missing out?