10 Questions for Arianna Huffington

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Arianna Huffington, March 2006

One does not look at Arianna Huffington and think, "shrinking violet." She ran an all-but-lost-cause campaign for governor in California, she's done a television broadcast in her pajamas from a bed shared with Al Franken (back when she still thought of herself as a Republican), she launched a website that, on its first day, was dubbed "the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one. In magazine terms, it's the disastrous clone of Tina Brown's Talk, JFK Jr.'s George or Maer Roshan's Radar." She showed the naysayers on that one — the Huffington Post has become a wildly popular must-read (her reporting on the Plame case and struggles inside the New York Times newsroom incited its own name-the-source guessing game). In any case, her new book, On Becoming Fearless, is all about her inner scaredy-cat. TIME talked to the red-headed reinventor about phobias and footwear.

TIME: You've written a book about being fearless when it comes to being yourself, but what about everyday fears: mice, spiders, thunder, etc.? What are you scared of?

Arianna Huffington: Curling my eyelashes. It always makes me feel like I'm about to poke my eyes out. And, of course, as the mother of two teenage daughters, I'm terrified of the "best friends with benefits" concept.

TIME: While you bemoan how much money women spend on diets and makeup and fashion, I can't help but notice you're pretty well put together. How do you reconcile being fearless about one's appearance and getting regular facials?

AH: It's all about priorities and balance. Nothing wrong with caring about one's appearance and being physically fit. The problem is when these things become what your life is about, when we confuse what should be in the background of our lives with what should be in the foreground. And I'd like to make it clear to the powerful D.C. face-care lobby — "Big Facial" — that I'm very pro-facial.

TIME: Are high heels part of conspiracy to keep women off balance? I ask only because I have, in the past, admired your shoes.

AH: Well, if it's a conspiracy, it's an inside job. After all, women love them as much as men — maybe more. Even at 5'10", I can't resist high heels. So I'll wait for the Oliver Stone movie exposing the whole Jimmy Choo/Manolo Blahnik axis of heels scheme.

TIME: Do you think Hillary Clinton is frightened of anything? If so, what?

AH: She is clearly frightened of losing. You can smell the fear on her. It wafts around her like a cheap perfume: Eau de Don't Let Me Screw Up and Flush My Chances Down the Toilette. As a result of her fear of losing and the soul-sapping tyranny of trying to please and placate everybody, she's become more processed than Velveeta. You can almost see every word that comes out of her mouth first being marched through the different compartments of her brain — analyzed, evaluated, and vetted by each of them. What will the consultants think of this? How will it poll? Will working women between 25-35 in eastern Ohio think it's okay? Her fear has caused a complete disconnect from who she really is and what she really thinks — that is, if she even knows anymore.

TIME: You relate an anecdote about what happened when your fearlessness led you to write negatively about a friend because of a political disagreement. How often does that happen? How many friends do you think you've lost because you chose to have a public disagreement with them?

AH: Quite a few, but thankfully there are just as many I've had disagreements with that are still my friends. In fact, in some ways it's deepened these friendships. Also, I'm very tribal and if someone is a really close friend — part of my little tribe — no amount of political disagreement can get in the way.

TIME: When's the last time you felt discriminated against? What happened?

AH: During the gubernatorial debate in California, I felt more condescended to than discriminated against, with Arnold telling me I should drink more decaf — can you imagine him saying that to a guy? — and then-Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, whenever I was making a point, rolling his eyes and saying "Yes, Arianna. Yes, Arianna." It was the equivalent of "Take two Midol and you'll feel better in the morning, honey."

TIME: Has the Huffington Post turned out like you thought it would? How has its growth surprised you? What are your plans for it?

AH: It has totally surprised me! I'm a superstitious Greek peasant so I never count my goats before they hatch. As for our future plans, we're looking to build on what we're doing by adding more video, more investigative pieces, more satiric content. And we've just added a new section that covers everything but politics. Using as its springboard the themes in my new book, On Becoming Fearless, the section contains blog posts, news stories, and special features on relationships, work, parenting, health, sex, food, entertainment... in other words, life.

TIME: Does having a lot of money make everything less frightening than it might be otherwise? Or does it create new kinds of fears?

AH: I don't know, I'll have to put in calls to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — but not his granddaughter. The truth is, our deepest fears tend to be deeply rooted, internal things, are actually pretty universal, and the rich people I know are just as prone to them as everyone else. Of course, if you are struggling to put food on the table, that generates very different survival fears.

TIME: If you had won your bid for Governor, what would be different today?

AH: You wouldn't have a governor who thinks Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans are all the same — and are "hot" because of a mix of "black blood" and "Latino blood."

TIME: If you could share some of your fearlessness with one other person — imbue her or him with an extra ounce of much-needed courage — who would it be, and what would you want that person to do with it?

AH: I'd love to give a fearlessness boost to all the security moms in America who last election were taken in by the Rovian fear-mongering rhetoric. Fear is a powerful, universal emotion — always there to be exploited, and has been a frighteningly effective sales pitch for the White House. That's why we need a major counteroffensive — a wide-ranging campaign to help spread fearlessness so as to inoculate the country against this shameful campaign strategy. Otherwise, we're going to once again succumb to our lizard brains and keep voting our fears — even as our logical brains tell us that the fearmongers in power have made us all less safe. The more we learn to overcome the fears that limit us, the more we'll be able to counter those looking to keep us shrouded in a fog of fear. And, of course, more than anything, I would love to give a fearlessness boost to my daughters so they can avoid so many of the fears that I had to fight to overcome.