Last night, a full house at Wortham Center applauded her criticisms of government and laughed at her self-deprecating humor. They loved her support of the middle class and her accusations that the media is failing to tell the right stories. Arianna Huffington was a hit.
And why wouldn't she be? She's bright and articulate, has a pleasant Greek accent, and seems to say what everyone seems to know, but no one cares to say.
And she went to Cambridge (which she mentioned on three occasions).
The heralded queen of online media is on the road, making stops around the country publicizing her new book, Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream. Her Wednesday speaking engagement was part of a fall speaker series presented by The Progressive Forum, a non-profit "civic speaker organization" in Houston.
Huffington is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, the highly-successful (24.3 million unique viewers) progressive news and opinion website driven by guest bloggers. She's a syndicated columnist and regularly makes appearances on TV talk shows. She inherited her name and some of her financial stability from her former husband, U.S. Congressman Michael Huffington. In 2003, she ran for governor of California as an independent in the recall election, losing to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Despite the governor set-back, she's obviously done well for herself.
She set the tone early on Wednesday evening, echoing a prominent theme of her newest book, that "the middle class is the backbone of society." She criticized the mismanagement of government funds and its "perverse priorities." Two examples were the billions of dollars spent to "wage and fund an unwinable war that is not of national security" and bailing out the banks without "conditions or strings attached." Had the funds been more wisely spent, the deficits most state's are currently enduring could have been paid off, she claimed.
As for the media, Huffington asserted that newspapers and websites alike don't spend enough time and effort on the stories that matter, instead wasting headlines and ink covering "Balloon Boy" and Terry Jones, the Koran-burner. She didn't mention that both stories were front-page news on the Huffington Post. She also forgot to mention that she doesn't pay for the majority of the content that drives her website, helping to cripple an already floundering industry, and don't even get us started on the Move Your Money campaign (Did Arianna ever move hers?) ... but we digress.
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Between doling out potential solutions or citing specific chapters of her new book, she did make humorous swipes at her age (she's a lady, we won't say!), parenting skills (she has two daughters) and thick accent (very Greek).
She even had a vulnerable moment, breaking down while reading a quote about hope in difficult times. The quote was from Seth Reams, the founder of "We've Got Time To Help," who just that afternoon was announced as one of the HuffPost's Game Changers for 2010.
After a 50-minute speech, Huffington sat down with Randall Morton, the founder and president of the Progressive Forum, for a Q&A session.
The evening closed with a standing ovation and a book-signing -- and the thought that, despite criticisms of Huffington and her sometimes questionable methods, that she may be on to something.