AOL-Huffington Post marriage: Really, it's not political
AOL's $315-million purchase of the Huffington Post has produced all sorts of commentary, including my "On the Media" column on the nature of this new media giant.
Some critiques have focused elsewhere, on how the onetime king of dial-up Internet access allegedly sold its soul to the queen of the political left.
"This proves AOL News has lost its mind," raged right-wing media commentator Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center. "AOL News is fooling only itself in thinking there is no journalistic conflict in merging with a hate-filled, vicious, radically left-wing rag."
No one in their right (or is it left?) mind would question that HuffPo is a haven for lefties, witness the withering screed that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin offered up after Sarah Palin ("phony pioneer girl" was one of his milder rebukes) conducted her televised caribou hunt for cable's TLC. That one drew more than 700,000 readers.
But anyone who visits the site regularly realizes that it's driven much more by aggregation of features, video, gossip, sports, books, movies, reality TV and all sorts of other pop culture morsels.
It's safe to bet that Google searches bring battalions of conservatives and moderates to the site to read about, say, Christina Aguilera botching the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
Speaking to a group of marketing and PR types in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, Huffington and AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong stressed that just 15% of the Huffington Post revolves around politics. Armstrong called the charges of a left-wing media coup a "red herring."
"There is a bigger fact, which is the business fact, which is that Huffington Post is one of the fastest-growing large-scale content properties with a great brand on the Web," Armstrong said.
That does not mean, Huffington suggested, that AOL's myriad sites will be devoid of politics. She has argued for several years that the political debate has too often been characterized as right/left, when many issues don't break down that way.
She likes to note, for instance, that traditional conservatives such as Grover Norquist and George Will have questioned whether the high cost of the war in Afghanistan is worth paying.
What's more important than purging politics from AOL's websites is making it clear where writers are coming from, Huffington suggested. She noted that local editors for Patch.com, AOL's hyper-local Web presence in more than 700 communities, post biographies on the sites that outline their political views.
"The important thing is transparency," Huffington said, "to be transparent about where you are coming from as a journalist.”
-- James Rainey
Twitter / latimesrainey
Photo: Tim Armstrong, chief executive officer of AOL Inc., and Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, at AOL headquarters in New York on Monday. Credit: Jin Lee / Bloomberg