The New Yorker's big Arianna Huffington profile may have been a letdown, with very little dirt on the politics or business of the Huffington Post, as we said yesterday. And, granted, it also failed to establish that the HuffPo publisher is a "cutthroat boss," as the Post hinted it would. But those who have spent time in Huffington's orbit seemed determined to have their say. And so it is that we have come to understand more clearly Huffington's seemingly strange remark that " a lot of people who came to the office wanted to be writers" at HuffPo but left because "the jobs are administrative." That quote left one to wonder if people signed up to be Arianna's administrative assistants and were upset because they couldn't get bylines. But no. People signed up to be editors, we hear, and were upset because they were asked to do the work of household assistants.
The stories about Huffington's difficult temperament as a manager seem to have evolved into lore, and likely some of the anecdotes that have circulated among her burned detractors are apocryphal. And yet at least some appear to go beyond mere myth, unsurprising for a competitive, multitasking mogul like Huffington, who the New Yorker compared to a typical "highpowered, if high-strung, boss."
It must have been tough for even the New Yorker's vaunted fact checkers to separate fact from fiction in the thicket of scuttlebutt surrounding Huffington, given that she requires her employees, journalists included, to sign nondisclosure agreements.
But "dark side of Arianna and the Huffington Post" was whispered about to the New Yorker's Lauren Collins in her interviews, we're told, and some such bits are worth repeating:
- One Los Angeles-based "editor" is assigned to read Huffington's emails aloud to her and replying according to the publisher's dictation. We admit, that sounds like pretty horrifying work. Even before considering Huffington's famous Greek accent.
- Other LA editors must schedule the hair appointments of at least one of Huffington's daughters, supposedly. We're starting to get a Miranda Priestly vibe.
- Editors are also to arrange for a repairman to fix the washing machine when it breaks. Granted, Huffington has staffers working from a hidden room in her Brentwood home, so they're handy, but can't Huffington have her housekeeper do this?
- In other housework, editors are reportedly tasked with hiding potentially controversial papers and books before reporters visit. What titles could Huffington have that would, despite her reputation for an eclectic and hungry intellect, be so damaging to her image?
More sensationally, Huffington's "top editors" are said to ghost write her posts on the site, with the publisher merely approving final drafts. It would be brazen for Huffington to flout her 2005 diktat that ghost writing "will never happen" at HuffPo. But not unimaginable, given the pressures on her time.
According to one tipster, Huffington's misjudgments don't stop with signing others' work as her own. Of the nine people who have quit the Los Angeles office in the past four months, one was an editor upset after Huffington called him or her a "retard," this person said. (HuffPo is said to have five regular LA staff positions, so it seems likely some of those who recently quit may have been in temporary positions or otherwise not part of the regular area team. HuffPo also has an office in New York.)
Huffington's varied careers, as the New Yorker noted, have included work as a "commentator... socialite... Republican political wife, a divorcée cable comedienne, a self-help writer, a progressive, an early environmentalist, a failed gubernatorial candidate, a blogger, an Internet mogul." Though gifted, in many ways, at relating to other people, particularly when it can advance her interests, Huffington is not a seasoned manager. Three years after the launch of HuffPo, it is understandable that she is apparently still struggling at holding together a staff.
But it would seem a dangerous gamble for Huffington to intentionally affect the brutality and off-the-wall demands of, say, Anna Wintour. It's not clear that a website like Huffington Post, bookmarked rather than subscribed to, will ever be able to comfortably lock in readers and advertisers like a Vogue, or to offer the same sort of glamor as a perquisite to staff. Becoming more competitive at hiring, meanwhile, is a matter of mere organization, of clearly defining job boundaries and of disciplining one's temper. And what better time for Huffington to do so than now, when the press is still writing profiles of the generally flattering sort?