Following the weekend announcement that AOL was acquiring The Huffington Post, we wondered what would become of AOL’s political news brand, Politics Daily. We also asked what Arianna Huffington’s promotion to the head of all AOL content would mean for the generally apolitical brand—“Will this “impresario of the digital left,” as one commentator called her infuse AOL’s rather vanilla properties with her liberal brand? And even if she doesn’t, will the specter of Huffington alter the even-handed name AOL has built with its content?”
We still don’t have any clear answers on that front, but there has been a development. The specter of Huffington has proven too much for Politics Daily columnist Matt Lewis, an “iconoclastic” conservative. Formerly at Townhall.com, Lewis is moving on to The Daily Caller, and in a farewell column that comes weeks before his planned March move, he explains why:
I’ve met Ms. Huffington exactly once — on the set of “Nightline’s” election night coverage. She could not have been kinder. Additionally, I have even authored an article or two for her site (on tech issues) over the years. This is all to say that I have no personal issue with Ms. Huffington, and that I am not a “Huff-hater.”
However, writing a guest post is different from working for someone, and it occurs to me that AOL has vastly underestimated the public perception (I would argue the accurate impression) that Huffington is a far-left liberal.
Obviously, I am more than happy to write for a mainstream news outlet where differing opinions are allowed to flourish, but I am less comfortable with the notion of being permanently affiliated with an overtly left-of-center (sometimes activist) outlet.
Lewis now moves to an overtly right-of-center outlet. And he’s already left an apple on the teacher’s desk.
I am incredibly blessed to be joining a terrific organization in The Daily Caller. I look forward to learning from its founder and editor in chief, Tucker Carlson, and working alongside the terrific team he has assembled. The Daily Caller and Tucker Carlson personify iconoclastic conservatism, and so I am hopeful I will quickly fit in.
Interestingly, a quick read around Wednesday—including at some activist-y type liberal outlets—and a hardening anti-Huffington consensus seems to suggest Lewis might have jumped ship too soon. His new boss is no genuine far-left liberal, say observers of Huffington’s various shrewd political shifts. She’s a chameleon. That’s what Dana Milbank argues, pretty damningly and convincingly, in a column Wednesday. He describes her ideological slipperiness “with admiration.”
Greek-born and Cambridge-educated, she has always been on the move ideologically, from her early squabbles with feminism to her role as a minister with the new-age Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness, from her membership in Newt Gingrich’s brain trust to her stint as populist activist—all before her greatest act, the Huffington Post.
I first came across Huffington in 1995, when she was working at Gingrich’s Progress and Freedom Foundation, preaching social consciousness to fellow conservatives. She railed against “big government” and pronounced: “We do our part and God meets us halfway. That’s why I’m a conservative.” That version of Huffington called for strict immigration restrictions. She favored Bill Clinton’s resignation and floated the rumor that a former ambassador had been buried in Arlington because Clinton had slept with his wife.
As to claims that the right had bamboozled the old Arianna, Milbank responds: “Nobody bamboozles Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. If anybody was fooled, it was those who believed she would be a more enduring progressive than she was a conservative.” Fair warning to those concerned about a Huffington watering-down at AOL.
Jonathan Chait echoes much of what Milbank says, excerpting from the column as well as from a paywalled TNR piece by Isaac Chotiner. But Chait is less admiring: “ now she is discarding liberal ideology again for a business deal. But I bet she’ll be back by, oh, 2020.”
We shall see what becomes of other AOL righties. And while we don’t blame anyone for jumping ship—ugh, that AOL memo!—it’s probably worth considering their new boss’s past as well as her present. As Milbank writes, “Anybody who expects her to continue as a reliable voice of the left is a poor student of Huffington history.”
*NOTE: Original subhead read “Politics Daily’s Matt Lewis fon’t work for Arianna”—apologies for the typo. Joel.