The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

02 October 2006

Arianna Huffington, Al Franken, Air America


Arianna Enjoys Dose Of Al's Press Fawning

One longstanding characteristic of leftist- run media outfits has been a relentless lionization of its fellow- travellers, whether in Hollywood, elective office, or out in the streets protesting today's "progressive" causes. Beyond mere support, liberal icons are to be treated as saints, here to save the world from conservative evil.

Al Franken, however, has operated at a whole different level in recent years, where it isn't enough to merely lavish occasional heapings of unquestioning media praise upon him. Instead, it must be done frequently and with great enthusiasm.

Here at the Radio Equalizer, we've come to call this phenomenon "Frankenfluff", after realizing that no other term could adequately express the level of unabated press fawning Mr Smalley continues to receive.

In fact, Al gets so much that he's apparently decided to spread it around, sharing a big dose of turbo- powered Frankenfluff with friend Arianna Huffington, in the latest issue of New York Magazine:

It’s the night of the premiere for God Spoke, the movie about Al Franken’s crusade against the right, and the converted are out in force. The Independent Film Center is filled with documentary filmmakers, lefty progressives, political bloggers, journalists, and comics—an aggressively dowdy crowd lugging messenger bags.

Then Arianna Huffington arrives. In heels, she towers over the tiny people around her, and she is wearing all the colors of beige that have special names: taupe, sand, cream. Her deep-brown slacks are beautifully cut, as are her thick belt and her enormous leather handbag. She looks slightly ridiculous and totally lovely.

And of course, she knows everyone. She and Al Franken embrace. The Huffington Post’s media blogger Rachel Sklar hands her Dave Zinczenko’s new advice book for women, for which she will participate in a reading days later. An adviser for Ned Lamont rushes over to thank her for her advice about wooing a reporter. “I did what you said, I took her to lunch,” he tells Huffington enthusiastically. “She explained all about this editor, the one who was behind the takedown of Dean, the takedown of Kerry … ”

Quite a few members of the audience are bloggers for the Huffington Post: Huffington greets Eric Alterman, Max Blumenthal, and Ben Wikler. A genial, shaggy 25-year-old former editor of The Onion, Wikler is collaborating with Huffington on a new political-satire site, funded by Barry Diller. Like Huffington, he’s working the room, inviting young comedians to participate in an upcoming brainstorming session. We chat about his boss’s intense charisma.

“It’s her superpower,” Wikler says. “If she were in the X-Men, that would be her mutant power. If Rogue touched her, she’d take away her charm.”

It might seem odd that a 25-year-old who makes X-Men references would even know a 56-year-old woman famous for her connections to the rich and powerful, but he explains that Franken introduced them. “Of course he met Arianna through me!” Franken interrupts in a mock-disgruntled voice. “Everybody here met her through me! Everybody in the left and comic worlds. I’m sick of it—I made her, dammit!”

But that’s how it is and how it has always been with Huffington: Everywhere she goes turns into a series of links, links that lead to other links. She’s a human blog. Tonight she’s in town to publicize her eleventh book, On Becoming Fearless, and these skills—networking, connecting, befriending—are out in full force.

The flamboyant talking head has been accused all her life of what might be called crimes of charm: intellectual dilettantism and opportunistic shape-shifting, most notoriously for her late-nineties slide from the Gingrich right to the Franken left. She has attracted ridicule for seeming just a little larger than life—too friendly, too flashy, too weird for any given room.

But at 56, she seems to have found a culture almost supernaturally suited to her strengths: her endless blogroll of friends, her fascination with “contagious” ideas and the uses of popularity. The very things she has been mocked for over the years—her ability to shift swiftly from topic to topic, her swashbuckling political rhetoric, her penchant for attention-getting—are what the online world is all about. She’s found her home in the blogosphere.

Walking into the offices of the Huffington Post, I have a dizzying flashback to 1995: It’s an airy dot-com loft that—unlike, say, Air America, whose corporate cubicles we’d visited that morning—feels exceptionally well funded. Bright Pop Art splotches adorn the walls. Twenty-five-year-olds huddle on sofas eating takeout. There’s an MTV-logo-shaped fish tank in the lobby and a massive portrait of Muhammad Ali and, of course, a pool table.

Huffington has spent the week on book promotion— a friendly interview with Rachel Maddow at Air America (she solicits her as a blogger), a showdown with Bill O’Reilly (they square off over the Kurds), a tête-à-tête with Franken (who invites her to his premiere). At each juncture, she has stayed adamantly on message, each seemingly spontaneous anecdote practiced and polished. Her book, she explains, concerns both personal fearlessness, the kind she hopes to inspire in her daughters, and political courage, the kind she hopes to inspire in the Democrats.

(Emily Nussbaum)

Even though some of Huffington's transgressions are dealt with later in the piece, overall, this one truly gets the Frankenfluff seal of approval! Well done, gang, a case of fluff is on its way to you!

FOR THE LATEST on key Massachusetts races, visit Bay State Showdown, our other site.

Frankenfluff image: Pete at IHillary Second Huffington image: Chris Buck, New York Magazine

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