By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
They’re all lambs to the slaughter, — baa, baa, baa, suddenly standing for baad, baad, baad — led by a shameless shepherdess whose only interest in the Hollywood flock in the first place is its ability to secure yet another headline for Huffington.
Huffington’s plan for a Hollywood blog was first outed by Business 2.0. But a furor wasn’t created until the New York Observer issued an asterisk-and-exclamation-point-studded online exclusive that Warren Beatty would likely join. Beatty himself only said "Probably," yet the Observer took that and ran with it because the paper’s editor, Peter Kaplan, became buddy-buddy with the actor after Kaplan wrote a bylined cover story fawn-a-thon on Beatty before the release of his 1998 box-office dud Bulworth. Yet, now that the blog is online, has-been Beatty so far is a no-show, probably because he hasn’t been able to utter a declarative sentence in this lifetime.
Huffington herself was telling media that she would not have anything to say on the record about her venture until it went online May 9. But she made an exception for The New York Times. That surprisingly uncritical article was the end-all-and-be-all for Arianna, given that she and her clique of gadfly cronies live and die for NYT coverage. Then she made even more exceptions for every big-time newspaper and magazine.
Again and again, Huffington made claims that her blog was not intended to compete with the Drudge Report, which already blanket-covers the mediapolitic terrain. (Full disclosure: I am one of the columnists whom Matt Drudge links on the Web site.) Yet several people who saw Arianna’s executive summary of the Huffington Postprospectus tell me that she said her blog was intended as a liberal response to what is widely perceived as the conservative bent of the Drudge Report. "When she sent it over and talked to me about it, she said again and again that she hopes it will be a place they go to like they go to Drudge: breaking news, information ahead of the curve, the effect like Drudge does of getting stories broken," one Hollywood player tells me.
On the financial side of the summary, Huffington stressed the profit potential of her venture. And I’m told that, in conversations with those she fingered as potential investors, she spoke of her ambition to raise $5 million to underwrite her new company, which she amusingly likened to getting in on the ground floor of AOL "pre-merger." Of course, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, everyone knows that AOL pre-merger was a house of cards whose stock value was artificially inflated by the Internet bubble. Given Arianna’s pitch, it’s all the more amusing that her start-up investor turned out to be none other than the former executive vice president at AOL Time Warner, Ken Lerer.
I’ve learned that Huffington was hoping that Hollywood would initially invest at least $500,000, in $100,000 increments. "She framed it to them as an opportunity to invest, to share in something we’re launching, to be with friends," one source told me. "My sense was she knew that the people wouldn’t evaluate it as they would a real business deal, like an investment in stock or real estate, but as a friend to help her. If they’re looking to just make money, there are smarter places."
Huffington approached five major players to ante up. Yet she did not go to some of the usual Los Angeles liberal suspects for money. Not Spielberg. Not Streisand. Not Saban. Not Bing. Not Burkle. Not the Resnicks (the Franklin Mint people). Instead, Huffington asked DreamWorks SKG partner David Geffen, All in the Family producer Norman Lear, Endeavor Agency partner Ari Emanuel, Pulp Fiction producer Lawrence Bender and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s wife, Laurie.
All have well-known liberal credentials. Geffen was one of the single largest political donors to Democrats during the Clinton years. Lear is the founding funder for the liberal think tank People for the American Way. Emanuel’s brother Rahm is a two-term Democratic congressman from Illinois and a former top Clinton adviser. Bender, a generous supporter of liberal political causes, lately has been outspoken about Israel. And David is an environmental activist best known for her ongoing anti-SUV campaign. Sources tell me that of the five, only Bender and David expressed real interest, and lo and behold, Laurie David shows up on the home page. Emanuel wanted no involvement, period. Lear "didn’t put any money into it," his spokeswoman told me. "If he’s got something to say, he might participate, but he’s got no plans right now."
Regarding Geffen, Arianna played her hand poorly. "It is a little bit of a shell game," a source close to Geffen told me pre-launch. "You call someone and say, ‘I’ve got X committed for X amount of money.’ That’s what she did with David. He was not aware that she’s using his name as an investor." I’m told that once Geffen was alerted, his people had to speak to Huffington and "straighten it out."