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Dazzle, Yes. But Can They Blog?
For Arianna Huffington, The Stars Come Out to Post

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 9, 2005

The essence of blogging has been the one-man band, the big mouth in the basement, the pajama-clad pontificator taking on the media establishment.

Now Arianna Huffington, who knows something about seizing the spotlight, wants to change that. Today she launches a 300-person blog, the Huffington Post, featuring lots of her famous showbiz friends, that could redefine the nature of online commentary, or at least bring her another 15 minutes.

Her marquee names -- Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Geffen, Rob Reiner, Albert Brooks, Bill Maher, Larry David -- aren't exactly hurting for ways to get their messages out.

"The great thing about blogging is that your thoughts don't have to have a beginning, middle and end," says Huffington, arguing that famous folks are usually too busy to craft an op-ed piece. "You can just put a thought out there in the cultural bloodstream."

Huffington's Hollywood pals -- who also include such writers and producers as David Mamet, Norman Lear, Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin -- are just the neon attractions. She is also touting Walter Cronkite, Gary Hart, Arthur Schlesinger, Mort Zuckerman, Vernon Jordan and Robert Kennedy Jr. And while the blog is heavy on left-wingers, she has reached out to the right, luring the likes of John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, Tony Blankley of the Washington Times and National Review's David Frum.

Says political activist Laurie David, wife of the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star: "Early every morning, we're at the kitchen table reading the papers, and within three minutes one of us is screaming. This is going to be a channel for that."

Beatty says the venture "holds out the possibility that the horrifying danger of media consolidation may be ameliorated." He says Huffington will provide a forum "not owned by the New York Times, News Corp., General Electric, Disney, Viacom, The Washington Post, Tribune Media, Knight Ridder, Gannett and the like" and that smart writers "will have no fear of being edited or fired for views that might go against the interests of the publisher." At the White House correspondents' dinner last month, Huffington invited several media attendees to join her site.

No one is promised a dime.

Blog mistress is only the latest incarnation for Huffington, who has been a Republican activist (as a GOP congressman's wife), Democratic activist (she backed John Kerry), Comedy Central bedmate of Al Franken, syndicated columnist, author, anti-SUV crusader and gadfly candidate for California governor (she got 0.6 percent of the vote after a last-minute pullout). She envisions the blog as a big dinner party, with chatter "about politics and books and art and music and food and sex."

Huffington insists her effort isn't just about the boldface names; she's lined up some college kids and a friend's 11-year-old daughter. "My dream is that we'll create new blogging stars," she says.

Huffingtonpost.com has a dozen investors, from her partner Ken Lerer, a former AOL Time Warner executive, to Larry David. The site, which has seven paid staffers, including a former Matt Drudge researcher, will sell advertising, and Tribune Media plans to syndicate weekly highlights.

An advance peek at the early postings provides the flavor of the dialogue. When Cronkite proposed a Democratic convention to hammer out what the party stands for, labor leader Andy Stern wrote: "Walter, if it is a repetition of the last convention, we should proceed with extreme caution!" Lear was blunt: "I cringe for that great body of voters every time I hear them disparaged -- 'Can't they see they're voting against their own self-interest?' -- by us Democrats, liberals, progressives, whatever we are calling ourselves at the moment."

Radio host and "Simpsons" voice Harry Shearer moderates an "Eat the Press" section, saying: "We've taken off the menu both the 'gee, we did the horserace story again too often during the campaign' dishes and the extra-salty 'they're biased against the left/they're biased against the right' stews you may have been gorging on lately."

"M*A*S*H" creator Larry Gelbart writes: "Again, the media lends itself to becoming weapons of mass distraction, reveling in Laura Bush's potty mouth, giving her jokes equal time with the fresh hostage taking in lraq, a tsunami of suicide bombings, the faith-biased initiative to kill the filibuster (aborting the Constitution being acceptable), and Mr. Excitement's less than pressing press conference."

Laurie David, who joined Huffington in the 2003 anti-SUV campaign, says that "we were ridiculed by the media," even though hybrid cars are now hot. "The Huffington Post is going to balance the power out there that the media has had forever."

The venture comes as others in cyberspace are trying to figure out how to make money. Novelist and blogger Roger L. Simon is forming Pajamas Media, an alliance of 170 blogs that hopes to sell advertising by offering first-person coverage and video of events around the world.

Will Huffington's blog make news, or just be a collection of occasional posts by Very Important People who can't really be candid without jeopardizing their lucrative ventures?

The best blogs, love 'em or hate 'em, have an unmistakable voice; this will be a cacophony of voices. It's an open question whether the scribblings of the rich and influential can be as compelling as those of previously obscure people who are now online stars.

Background Blues

A delegation of Washington bureau chiefs has asked the White House to put an end to "background" briefings in which administration officials offer their spin on an anonymous basis.

Philip Taubman of the New York Times, Susan Page of USA Today, Clark Hoyt of Knight Ridder and Sandy Johnson of the Associated Press were among those making the case to spokesman Scott McClellan. "It hurts our credibility, and the administration's credibility, when no name is attached to the information," says Knight Ridder correspondent Ron Hutcheson.

But as media blogger Jay Rosen asked in a posting titled "Stop Us Before We're Briefed Again," why don't the reporters just boycott these sessions? Hutcheson says he tried that once, "and it was a one-man walkout. . . . The big reason is competitive pressure. Even if one person stays, you've lost some sort of competitive edge."

McClellan says he'd like to do away with background briefings but sees reporters' use of unnamed sources as a larger problem: "I believe the American people look suspiciously, and rightly so, on media reports that quote anonymous officials. I think one concern the American people have is sources hiding behind their anonymity to provide selective information to reporters in order to generate negative attacks. I don't think the big concern from the public comes from articles that quote senior officials like the president or secretary of state on the record, and then have aides providing context to the policy or meetings."

Albom Addendum

A team of Detroit Free Press reporters is continuing to investigate past stories by sports columnist Mitch Albom, who is back at work after being suspended for writing about a basketball game before it happened.

A Free Press reporter called USA Today correspondent Patrick O'Driscoll to confirm that O'Driscoll had personally interviewed attorney Larry Pozner for a March 3 report on the civil settlement between Kobe Bryant and the woman who accused him of rape.

Two days later, Albom's column said: " 'In Kobe Bryant terms, the check will be small,' a Denver trial lawyer named Larry Pozner said last week. In the accuser's terms, 'the check will be gigantic. Kobe just bought her a home.' " The quote was word for word what had appeared in O'Driscoll's story. "I guess in the current climate, where we're trying to attribute everything," O'Driscoll says, the lack of credit "does surprise me a little bit."

Footnote : Jim Burns, press secretary to Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), has resigned, saying he made a "colossal error in judgment" in plagiarizing material from the Heritage Foundation for a newspaper column that ran under the congressman's byline.

Online Deceit

Steven Smith, editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, says he had strong reservations about using a "fictional scenario" to get a story.

The Washington state newspaper hired a computer expert and had him pose online as an 18-year-old boy interested in sex for a story accusing Spokane Mayor Jim West of having had sexual relationships with young men. West acknowledged having online and physical relationships through Gay.com but denied having had sex with anyone under 18, disputing two men who alleged he abused them as children in the 1970s.

"We needed to show beyond a shadow of the doubt that the mayor was the person behind these online screen names," Smith says. "This was a deceptive methodology. There's no way to put a different face on it."

But he says it would have "felt even seamier and less ethical" to use the real 18-year-old the paper had interviewed to entrap West.

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