Very long story short: Huffington, née Stassinopoulos, child of a Greek newspaper owner of inconsistent success, escapes a relatively friendless adolescence in Athens for England, where in short order she joins and becomes a featured member of the Cambridge debating Union and thereby a) discovers the power of words b) meets lots of people and, as a result, c) starts to appear on television d) writes a best-selling book on feminism and e) meets and falls in love with the cultural critic Bernard Levin who, she jokes in what becomes a familiar refrain is twice her age and half her size. She is 5’10”. She breaks off with Levin after seven years; she wants children, he does not. She writes two more books (the second a biography of Maria Callas that results in a plagiarism suit that ends in a settlement with an author that she would later consider a friend) and relocates to New York, where, with the help of such social luminaries as Ann Getty and Barbara Walters becomes so ubiquitous a fixture on the Upper East Side party circuit that in 1983 she is anointed with a profile in New York magazine: “The Rise and Rise of Arianna Stassinopoulos.” Three years later, she marries, seemingly well, the Texas gas and oil heir Michael Huffington, a Republican whose political career she helps guide through his election to Congress in 1992. Then comes Huffington’s unsuccessful 1994 run for the Senate, during which the glowing picture of Arianna as the eager young woman about town devolves into a portrait so calculating that she calls to mind Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. The marriage ends in 1997—Michael Huffington later reveals that he is bisexual—leaving Arianna with a house in Brentwood she shares with her sister and two daughters, and with a lingering reputation as a woman of somewhat curious opinions on alternative lifestyles and healthy living (she is a fiend about sleep), fueled by her association with one John-Roger, the leader of the cultlike Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. Arianna, contributor to the National Review, evolves into a “progressive.” She runs for governor. She gets less than 1 percent of the vote. She returns to writing books—there will be 13 in all—as well as a blog, Ariannaonline, when one morning in the fall of 2004, Jonah Peretti, who had flown in the night before and who had spent the night in the guestroom, comes into the dining room at 7 a.m. to discover that he is her second breakfast meeting of the day.
Laurie David, then-wife of the dyspeptic Larry, soon joins them, and Peretti is whisked along on a private jet for a flight to Sacramento for a rally in support of the Senate candidacy of Phil Angelides. In the course of a few hours, Peretti would watch with wonderment as Arianna Huffington eased herself from setting to setting, all the while making the person she was talking with feel like the most interesting and important person in the world, hanging on every word, never shifting her attention to check one of three BlackBerries. “I loved being a gatherer,” Huffington would later say. “I don’t really think you can make gathering mistakes.”
Peretti saw this talent through a different prism. “Arianna,” he says, “can make weak ties into strong ties.”
He returned to New York to discover that Lerer was already a few steps ahead of him. He wanted to talk about the venture the three of them would embark upon. “I remember him saying things like, ‘We don’t want to build a big website,’” Peretti would recall. “‘We want to build an influential site.’”
Precisely what occurred at the Huffington home in Brentwood a few weeks later, after George W. Bush’s defeat of John Kerry in 2004, is open to both debate and litigation. The nature of the dispute has to do with who exactly came up with the idea for what would become Huffington Post. All sorts of well-connected people—all connected to Arianna—had all sorts of ideas about how people of fame and influence on the left could make that influence felt. Among the 30 or so people invited—Larry David, Norman Lear, Meg Ryan, David Geffen—was one conservative outlier, Matt Drudge’s associate, the late Andrew Breitbart, who would later tell Wired that the site was his idea all along. Two other participants, Democratic consultants Peter Daou and James Boyce, would insist that the idea was theirs, and would six years later sue Huffington and Lerer. The case is pending.