It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)



Arianna Huffington

Posted on | October 22, 2008 | No Comments

FOR A WHILE THERE, IT LOOKED LIKE ALL-PURPOSE DEMOCRATIC go-to
politician A1 Gore might soon be in need of having his eyeballs
reattached, so far out of his head had they popped. This was during a
recent fund-raiser held in Beverly Hills, at the lovely home of Warner
Bros. president Alan Horn. In attendance were Democratic National
Committee leader Howard Dean, legendary sitcom genius Norman Lear and
any number of major-motion-picture-type liberals. They wandered around,
drinks in hand, lamenting the current state of the union, and then, like
Gore, they saw this tall, bosomy redhead and went all kinds of goofy.
Some of them dived toward her nearly headfirst. They wanted a hug. They
wanted a kiss. They wanted to exchange whispery bons mots. They wanted
whatever it was she was offering. As Gore said to her, leaning in close,
then backing out for a full gander, “Baby, you’re amazing.”

And yet why — why is Arianna Huffington amazing? What makes her so
special? For one thing, in the past year, her first online venture, the
Huffington Post political Web site, has become an unexpectedly
influential hit, drawing 3 million unique readers a month to read its
big, bubbling stew of celebrity bloggers, among them Norman Mailer,
David Mamet, Larry David and Deepak Chopra. Also, at the age of
fifty-six, she’s totally hot and, being Greck-born and
Cambridge-educated, she speaks with a voice that reflects both,
purringly. She has authored eleven books, some of them best sellers,
from the controversial (a biography of Picasso as ultimate misogynist)
to the fairly mundane (On Becoming Fearless … in Love, Work, and Life,
her latest, which she is still flogging, about how more women can be
“bold, bulletproof and positively bullish” just like her).

In addition, she’s fantastically rich, due in large part to her failed
marriage to reclusive oil heir Michael Huffington (who announced he was
bisexual shortly after the union ended). Lastly, she was once a
lip-flapping, hardball-playing, Newt Gingrich-loving Republican, but
awhile back, thanks to the efforts of her left-leaning buddy Al Franken,
she jumped ship and became a Democrat. And that’s not even the half of
it, which if you think about it really is kind of amazing.

Along the way, of course, people have said some pretty great things
about her. Her friends, at least one of whom is named Sugar, say she is
“totally openhearted” and “very thoughtful,” not to mention “silken,”
“spellbinding” and in possession of “such a powerful brain [that] she
exudes an intellectuality that is almost sexual.” Bill Maher — who has
been a Huffington fan ever since she first appeared on his Politically
Incorrect show in 1993 — says he has often witnessed the Huffington
magic at work. “We used to joke that if we booked Arianna on the show
with a guest that we hoped she would argue with, if they spent five
minutes together in the greenroom, she’d have converted them [to her way
of thinking]. People don’t know how seductive she is.”

But she’s also been called “a consistent self-promoter,” “evil,” “the
most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus,” a “Zsa Zsa Gabor manqué,”
“ruthless,” “unscrupulous,” a “scheming puppetmaster,” “an intellectual
lap dancer,” “a plagiarist,” “a hypocrite,” “only interested in power
and money,” “an opportunist,” “dishonest,” “manipulative” and
“superficial,” all of it wonderful stuff, when taking the position that
if even just some of it is true then it only serves to make her a more
comprehensive, well-rounded and zanily fun human being than most.

Nonetheless, pro-and-con opinions about Huffington are so easy to come
by that they tend to cancel each other out and render themselves
meaningless, leaving you hopelessly befuddled about the true nature of
the woman and how it is she can so addle men like Gore. Perhaps it’s
time to look elsewhere for a little insight, including back to
Huffington herself, who in recent portraits somehow seems to have been
overlooked as an explicator of her own self, as if she wasn’t capable,
or honest enough, or couldn’t see what was right in front of her own nose.

WHAT SHALL SHE WEAR today? She shall wear shapely buttock-accentuating
trousers, a sleeveless cowl-neck sweater (the better to show off her
shoulders, the bones and hollows there that she swears are her best
physical asset) and leg-lengthening high heels. Also, she shall style
her hair so that it achieves that saucy flip and height for which it is
famous and that has almost come to seem like a moral obligation: She is
never seen without it. She will, at times, apply beige lipstick to her
lips, but she shall perfume herself liberally with Cartier’s Le Baiser
Du Dragon, for she believes that its scent (base notes of benzoin, heart
notes of musk) defines her now — the kiss of the dragon. She shall not
paint her nails, because she has not painted her nails in twenty years.
She shall take care that her bra straps don’t show, unless she wants
them to show, in which case she will show them. She shall assiduously
strive to deflect all future talk of the spiritual side of her
life–mainly her longtime alliance with John-Roger, a New Age guru
and/or savior of humanity — on the grounds that it is too easily
lampooned. For the same reason, she shall, when occasion warrants,
pre-emptively announce that she keeps to herself her favorite sexual
position. She shall soon get a venti latte from Starbucks and through
its lid stick a green straw, always the green one, the smaller of the
two offered by Starbucks, and wrap her beige lips around it. But first,
she will swing down the stairs of her cozy $7 million mansion in the
Brentwood section of Los Angeles and into her cluttered, book-strewn
home office, which is candlelit and full of busy HuffPost employees. And
once there she will just miss the female features editor of the HuffPost
saying, “Does she deal with men differently than women? Is she flirtier?
I don’t think so. I’ve gotten phone messages from her where she’s like,
‘Hiiii, baby, it’s Ariannaaaa,” in that voice of hers, and I’m like,
‘Whoooo!’ She’s just a sensual person.”

‘We’re leaving momentarily,” Huffington herself says. “The car has
arrived, and I will blow out the candles now. Do you like candles? I’m
going to take extra batteries for the BlackBerry. And now we’re walking
off into the sunset together. I am going to go get a coat and a bag.
Five minutes. Can I have five minutes? Would you like some pomegranate
juice? We will take my iPod with me. It has great music. We will have
time for a Starbucks. I am a coffee addict. We can have endless
coffees.” Five minutes later, reclining in the back seat of a limo
taking her to Palm Springs for a book signing, she cues up a couple of
songs from her iPod, the Rivers of Babylon first, followed by Young,
Gifted and Black. “Unexpected, right?” she says. And then she says,
“Let’s talk. Tell me about you.”

WHAT EVERYONE WANTS to know is how she came to be this way. It happened
while growing up in Greece, né Stassinopoulos, under the influence of a
mother, Elli, who could convert total strangers into complete friends
like turning on a light. Conversely, her late father, Konstantinos, a
journalist, loving though he was, had learned certain inhospitable
lessons in the Second World War while incarcerated in a Nazi prison camp
for publishing an underground newspaper. He believed that the universe
was indifferent, that life was without meaning and that his wartime
suffering entitled him to endless affairs. Elli did not believe any of
this and left him when their daughter was eleven. Taking after her
mother, who died in 2000, Huffington is equally of the belief that
everything in life has meaning. Her favorite verse from the Bible is
“Not a sparrow falls but that God is behind it.”

And so, on any given day, in the company of any given individual, she
bubbles over with questions, looking for the intersections and overlaps,
the living sparrows still crossing paths, that might prove her
convictions right. “Do you like to dance?” “Can we talk about perfumes?”
“Do you think the breast stroke is more feminine than the crawl?” “Do
you like Leonard Cohen?” “What do you think of my lipstick?” She says
this is all part of her innate “capacity for intimacy,” something she
inherited from her room. But this capacity seems to have other sources
as well, including the teachings of what a few University of
California/Santa Cruz students in the early 1970s called Mind Fucking 101.

Actually, most people know it as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP.
It was developed at the height of the human-potential movement by John
Grinder, a UCSC linguistics professor, and Richard Bandler, a psychology
student, who theorized that any subjective human experience could be
reprogrammed in the brain almost instantly, using light hypnotic trance
states in conjunction with a particularly cunning way of talking. It was
freaky stuff, and aficionados soon realized that the techniques could be
employed in darker, more manipulative ways, to maybe persuade anyone of
just about anything. These days, it’s used by pickup artists to pick up
girls, by the self-help guru Tony Robbins (a Huffington pal) and by car
salesmen everywhere, who almost always employ it clumsily, hence that
creepy snake-in-the-grass feeling you get in their presence. Huffington,
though, has it down. Liltingly, musically, always with those exotic,
ancient overtones of faraway Greece, the way she talks lulls you into a
kind of full-blown dream state while you listen to her say things like
“I have a handful of best friends, girls and boys, men and women. Some
you would know, like Larry David’s wife, Laurie, and Bill Maher, and
some you would not know. I call them my tribe. And when you are in the
tribe, you are not judged. You are just loved.”

The operative sentences here are the last two. As delivered by
Huffington, they impart a message that is nearly impossible to resist.
You are not judged. You are just loved. This is what everyone wants, and
wants to hear, and if it’s all part of some grand, mysterious
calculation, it does seem to be on the side of the angels, harmless
enough. And thus has many a man, and not a few women, succumbed to her
charms.

“Did I study NLP? I did,” Huffington says. “I took Tony Robbins’ Walking
on Coals workshop, which was based on NLP principles, read lots of books
about NLP, took the concepts that I found valuable and kind of
integrated them. There’s good stuff in it. Would you like some almonds?”

THE DRIVER HAS GOTTEN HER lost somewhere near Palm Springs with time
running short, but Huffington does not get upset. She views this as an
opportunity to remain cool despite the heat, much like some of the other
opportunities that have come her way. There was the time in 2003, during
an ill-fated campaign for governor of California, that she knocked over
a forest of press microphones while trying to horn in on a photo-op with
fellow candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife. The time during the
same campaign that she spouted off about tax-avoiding “corporate fat
cats,” shortly before The Los Angeles Times revealed that she’d paid
only $771 in taxes the two previous years. The time that she formed a
group to oppose gas-guzzling SUVs, only to have it come out that she
once drove an SUV. The time that Time magazine wrote about her “past
involvement” with John-Roger, “a former schoolteacher who assumed the
name John-Roger in the early ’70s after the ‘Mystical Traveler
Consciousness’ entered him after a kidney-stone operation. The Cult
Awareness Network classifies John-Roger’s Movement of Spiritual Inner
Awareness as “destructive,” its most damning category. The many, many
times, ever since she switched political parties, she has been called a
feckless hustler. And so on, ad infinitum, such that one might be
tempted to conclude that, in addition to a gift for intimacy, she also
has a gift for self-sabotage. And yet she remains calm, like these were
the most welcome of sparrows.

“Why waste an ounce of your energy?” she says. “This is the only life
you have. It’s like what [L.A. Weekly columnist] Nikke Finke did the day
the Huffington Post went online.” What Finke did was write a bizarrely
scathing review of the Web site titled “Wy Arianna’s Blog Blows.” “It
would be a problem if I allowed it to affect me in any way. If you let
craziness of that kind affect you, there’s something wrong with you.
That’s what I’m saying in my new book about fearlessness, and that’s
what I’m telling my own daughters. Those things don’t matter. I have
zero interest in analyzing them. And I don’t think it’s my job to have
to explain them.”

Or, as John-Roger once said, “You can’t afford the luxury of a negative
thought.”

Even so, of course, she still gets them. She checks her BlackBerry
compulsively, for instance, even while out shopping with her daughters
Christina, W, and Isabella, 15, and often negatively asks of herself,
“How sick is that?” On the other hand, today, she pays no attention to
her BlackBerry when Isabella calls asking for help on a school paper
about the Rosetta stone. “For a topic sentence, why don’t you start with
the significance of deciphering it?” she suggests. “What about if you
start by saying, ‘We cannot overestimate the significance of deciphering
the Rosetta stone? Hieroglyphics were a complete mystery until then.'”

Afterward, she says, “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in
Socrates’ idea that the unexamined life is not worth living.” That
noted, however, like the Rosetta stone for a good, long 2,202 years,
much of Huffington at fifty-six years is still a mystery waiting to be
deciphered, largely because as a matter of policy she has always refused
to talk in any detail about her intimate life. This has led even her
friends to say things like “What’s beneath the public persona? More
public persona.” And yet the revelations that outsiders seem to yearn
for most — about her eleven-year-long, must-have-been-really-weird
marriage to then-closeted Michael Huffington and her even longer
association with John-Roger — are likely to only provide more
self-negating details for the endless pro-and-con debates about
Huffington currently ongoing. One would think that there has to be more,
and better, than that.

OH, GREAT LUCK; A FEW BITS OF fresh Huffingtonalia have recently been
unearthed — so recently, though, that only with further study can they
be contextualized. Nonetheless, the raw data seems worth sharing.

Her favorite cuss word is “fuck” (“What else is there?”), although in
fact very few people have ever heard her use it.

She is very much into “detoxification” and has had all her old dental
fillings replaced, fearing possible mercury poisoning. As to any
possible interest in colonics, she is mum.

She is “totally a lingerie person,” though the lingerie she wears is the
same lingerie she wore during her “Strange Bedfellows” bits on
Politically Incorrect. She is, it further develops, a great fan of
sleep. “My greatest hobby is sleep,” she can sometimes be heard to
exclaim. “I am such an incredible believer in sleep. Actually, one
problem with our culture is that we are entirely sleep-deprived.
Especially you guys, though I’m sure you are wiser than that.”

Her position on female orgasms is that she wrote about them on her Web
site only in response to a New York Times review of a book on the same
subject; as to her own most memorable orgasm, she would happily talk
about it if not for the feelings of her daughters. Suggest to her that
female orgasms exist only to make the men who cause them feel good about
themselves for having done so, however, and she is likely to shift
topics, slightly, and say, with a knowing frown, “Not all men are like
that. Only some men. Smart men.”

She once smoked cigarettes and would again if suddenly they were deemed
risk-free. Pot? “No, never.”

While late British journalist Bernard Levin wasn’t her first lover, he
was her first love. He was forty-two and she was twenty one, a student
at Cambridge and the third female president of its debating society, the
Cambridge Union. The couple didn’t kiss until their second date, after
Levin took her to Covent Garden, where she discovered that “the master
singer at Covent Garden is a great aphrodisiac.” Just an FYI for any
future Huffington daters out there.

A FEW DAYS AFTER THE BOOK SIGNING — it went very well, by the way: They
love her in Palm Springs — Huffington is at CBS studios in L.A., to
appear on tribe member Maher’s HBO show Real Time. She’s dressed in
black, very sleek. Former Environmental Protection Agency chief
Christine Todd Whitman is there, too, with her curly blond suburban hair
and cheap-looking too-blue jacket. Hotsie-totsie-wise, she can’t hold a
candle to Huffington, but who can? Then Huffington is on the air, Maher
gladly allowing her a few moments to puff her book. From there, it’s on
to politics, with another discussion of fear.

“You know what?” Huffington starts off. “A great leader is there to
inspire fearless ness to the public. I mean, look at FDR. That phrase of
his that has become a clicé, — ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear
itself’ — is actually incredibly profound. I mean, we dealt with the
Great Depression. We dealt with the Second World War. But he spread
fearlessness. The opposite of what this administration and this
president have done. Fear-mongering all the way.”

Applause.

“But they would not have succeeded,” she goes on, “had it not been for
the fear gripping the other side, the spineless Democratic leaders who
are willing to go along with the fear-mongering.”

Maher interrupts. “Don’t you think what Republicans really fear, and I
hate to generalize, is sex? I mean, you knew about closeted gay
Republicans before it was cool.”

Laughter from the audience. Laughter from Huffington.

“I don’t think Republicans fear sex,” she continues, absolutely unfazed.
“I think they fear losing power. They’re going to use sex and race and
everything in order to cling to power. That’s their worst fear.”

Afterward, she jumps in a limo headed for LAX and the Delta red-eye to
Tampa for a book signing in St. Petersburg. She gets out her ticket and
her driver’s license and stuffs them into her bra. “So I don’t have to
look for them later,” she explains. Then she’s silent for a while.

Right now, she’s between boyfriends. Amid her Web site and her book tour
and her kids, she hardly has time for them. And even when she does, ever
since her marriage ended, they’ve tended to last only six or seven
months. It’s all great in the beginning. “I am a very good listener, and
when I’m in love, I have an infinite capacity to be engaged with
everything about the man, however insignificant,” she says. Plus, she
definitely enjoys sleeping with another person “in the spoon position,
yes. I’m incredibly tactile.” But then comes the day, usually just when
things seem to be going swimmingly well, often right in the middle of
the discovery part of the fling, the thrill zone, when she suddenly
realizes that she’s sleep-deprived and walking around like a zombie. And
she doesn’t like walking around like a zombie. “So, I’ve gotten to be a
good breaker-upper,” she says, nearing the airport. “I mean, I believe
there’s no point in delaying the inevitable. I’m very nice and want to
be friends, and what I think is, it’s easier to be friends if you kind
of end the relationship on a high note, when things are still good, as
opposed to when things are on the way down.”

Well, at least she’s up front about it. Those men in her life, like so
many things, are just a few more sparrows flying by.

~~~~~~~~

By Erik Hedegaard

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