The Earth is Not Flat

The great thing about Arianna Huffington, besides everything, is that she practices what she preaches. She champions opinionated journalism and she herself is an unapologetically opinionated journalist. In fact, she probably would have been proud of that first line because it’s not objective and it doesn’t claim to be. To her, objective journalism is dishonest.

The Earth is Not Flat, Arianna Huffington
Photo: *christopher*, Creative Commons, Flickr

Arianna Huffington and Michelle Haimoff
Arianna Huffington and Michelle Haimoff

At the Personal Democracy Forum where she spoke about the new media system, she said that the worst part of traditional journalism “is pretending you have no opinions, pretending you’re presenting facts.”

Huffington questioned dealing with every issue as though it had two sides when the two sides do not have equal value. “We’ve wasted years debating global warming that way.” She said. “The Earth is not flat. Period.”

She went onto say that “the war in Irag is an unqualified catastrophe, not a mixed bag” and that calling the war a mixed bag is “like going to a doctor that says you have a brain tumor but your acne has cleared.”

She outlined the three major changes that came with new media as:

  1. Transparency
  2. Accountability
  3. Community

Old media tolerated a lack of sources and a lack of consequences for journalists, as well as an absence of the civil conversation we see in blogs and websites today.

She also noted, “It’s not enough to break a new story to tell the truth once. We need to stay on that story.” This, according to her, is the difference between the obsessive-compulsive disorder of the new media and the attention deficit disorder of the old media.

When asked what can go wrong in new media, she said, “human nature.” Specifically she said, “If you want to see the fall of a great journalist, look at the life of Bob Woodward . . . [He] was given unprecedented access to the White House and missed the story.”

When asked why we are so polarized, she said that it’s because no one can determine what the truth is. “It’s not my truth and your truth but the truth.” She added that conservatives used to criticize liberals for being relativists but today it’s the conservatives who claim that every fact has two sides.

“The problem with modern journalism is pretending that two sides are equal in value” she said, and that we can arrive at the truth by splitting the difference.

When asked about the credibility of new media, Huffington pointed out that it’s not as though the old media is credible, and that “the hunger for new media is because we don’t trust the old media.”

The entire audience did not agree with Huffington, as was evident by their reactions, but she certainly got everyone’s attention. It is rare to see her passion and confidence, not to mention emotional richness and warmth, in political discourse, which is usually dry and impartial and not at all Huffington’s style.

It is no surprise then that the success of The Huffington Post mirrors the success of Huffington herself. She does something a lot of the old media journalists and newspapers can’t seem to manage – she gets people to tune in.