By: Dave Astor
Arianna Huffington put her syndicated column on hold this summer to run as an independent for governor of California. She received 42,543 votes — finishing fifth in a field of more than 100 candidates — despite pulling out of the race a week before the Oct. 7 election. Huffington plans to resume her opinion column (published by 50-plus newspapers via Tribune Media Services) on Jan. 7. Meanwhile, she’s writing Fanatics and Fools for April release from Miramax. That book is about the recall race and how it might affect the 2004 presidential election. Below is an E&P Online interview with Huffington.
Are you glad you ran for governor?
Absolutely. It was an extremely positive experience. I’ve always seen myself as an activist as well as a commentator, operating in the tradition of journalists like Tom Paine, Frederick Douglass, and Upton Sinclair who were willing to move outside the confines of their newspaper work in an effort to affect change. For me, most of the things I write about in my column are fueled by a sense of outrage — outrage at injustice, corruption, unfairness, and the dishonesty of our leaders. The outside endeavors I become involved with are just another way of expressing that outrage, another way of trying to make a difference on the issues that matter most to me. It’s why I got into the governor’s race in the first place. And I feel very good about the fact that I was able to use my candidacy to put the media spotlight on a wide range of important issues, especially the corrupting influence of special-interest money on our democracy and the need for public financing of political campaigns.
Did you miss column-writing during your campaign?
It’s hard to miss much of anything when you’re regularly putting in 15-20 hour days on the campaign trail. And it’s not like there wasn’t a great deal of writing going on: speeches, position papers, press questionnaires, TV spots, etc. Plus, I had a campaign blog that gave me some of the same ability to communicate with readers/supporters that the column usually provides. But, of course, there were days when I woke up, read the newspaper, and thought: “Boy, I wish I were writing about that today!”
Do you think the experience will help you as a columnist?
There’s no question it will help. It was incredibly edifying to get a chance to experience many of the things I’ve been writing about for years. Take the issue of campaign-finance reform: I’ve been writing about and speaking out about the corrosive role Big Money is playing in our politics for many, many years. But after experiencing it first hand, I realized things are even worse than I thought they were. You have no idea how much of a candidate’s life is consumed with the task of having to raise money, and the constraints you have to deal with if you, as I did, refuse to take any special-interest donations or put any of your own money in. My campaign was a true grassroots effort: we had more individual donors than any other candidate. But most of those were small donations from average people, and, in the end, we just couldn’t compete against other candidates who were raising millions and millions of dollars from special-interest donors.
What was your fondest memory from your campaign? Your least fond memory?
My fondest memory would have to be the tour we did of college campuses up and down the state. Seeing how enthused and committed to making a difference the students were was inspiring. And everywhere I went on the campaign trail, I met people who had decided to get back in the political process after having turned their back on it. There were a lot of people who came up to me and said: “I’m 40 years old, I haven’t voted for 10 years, but I’m going to vote for you.” Or “I’m 35 and I’ve never voted before, but I registered so I can vote for you.” It was very rewarding. The thing I liked least was getting asked the same questions again and again and again. Especially about my so-called “political transformation.”
Was your polling peak around 3%? Why do you feel you didn’t do better?
I’ve been railing against the foolishness of polls — and the destructive effect they are having on our politics — for years. It’s not something I glommed on to because my numbers never got out of the single digits. As for why I didn’t do better, I think a great deal of it goes back to what I said before: it’s very, very tough to get your message out in a state the size of California if you don’t have a great deal of money with which to by TV ads. It’s tough to counteract the effect of a movie-star candidate with $20 million to spend on crafting a political persona — even one completely at odds with reality.
What do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected? How do you think he will do as governor?
The message sent by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory is very clear: the people are angry, and they’re sick and tired of politics as usual. And if legitimate candidates don’t find a way to tap into this very powerful — and very legitimate — longing for change, then phony reformers will step into the breach. The powers that be have gotten very good at cynically co-opting a populist, anti-special-interest message and falsely cloaking themselves in the mantle of reform. Remember how George Bush sold himself to us as a “reformer with results” when he was actually nothing of the kind? Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger did exactly the same thing. But even more effectively and misleadingly. He spent millions of dollars running wall-to-wall ads railing against special interests while raising millions of dollars from special interests. He painted himself as an outsider who is going to “kick serious butt” in Sacramento but surrounded himself with a who’s who of Republican insiders.
What do you think of the whole recall effort? Do you see it as sort of a Republican coup?
It certainly started out that way, what with Darrell Issa’s millions paying for out-of-state signature-gathering mercenaries in an effort to do through the backdoor what the GOP hadn’t been able to accomplish in 2002 — namely defeat Gray Davis. But the final results show that it became much more than a right-wing power grab. It turned into a honest-to-goodness voter revolt fueled by a combustible mix of disgust, anger, and a powerful longing for change and fundamental reform. It’s a longing the political establishment had better pay close attention to. A populist powder keg has been lit.
Et cetera …
Legendary Chicago columnist Irv Kupcinet has died at the age of 91. He wrote his Chicago Sun-Times column — which included celebrity, gossip, political, and sports content — from 1943 until this month. Kupcinet started his career as a Philadelphia Eagles football player before hurting his shoulder. In addition to his column, he broadcast Chicago Bears football games and hosted his own TV program from 1959 to 1986. He wrote about and knew thousands of celebrities, including Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Danny Thomas, Harry Truman, Mike Wallace, and John Wayne. (Information in this item is from a Sun-Times obituary by Neil Steinberg.)
Mary McGrory may not be resuming her Universal Press Syndicate-distributed column, according to a Nov. 11 tribute piece written by her cousin, Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory. Mary, who worked for the Washington Star and then The Washington Post, has been on medical leave since March. She received the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism Nov. 12.
Tribune Media Services (TMS) columnist Cal Thomas won the Warren Brookes Award for Excellence in Journalism. Former recipients include columnists Donald Lambro of The Washington Times and United Feature Syndicate, Robert Novak of the Sun-Times and Creators Syndicate, Paul Craig Roberts of Creators, George Will of the Washington Post Writers Group, and Walter Williams of Creators.
Compete in our writing contest, said the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) in an open letter to Dave Barry. When asked for his response, Barry told E&P Online: “In fact, I have entered the contest every year since 1987, but always using assumed names. Not to toot my own horn, but I have won first place every single year; in some years, I also finished second and third.” The messsage to Barry — whose Miami Herald column is syndicated to 500-plus newspapers via TMS — appeared in the NSNC newsletter. Here’s part of what newsletter editor Robert Haught wrote the humorist: “You have had a remarkable career, having won a Pulitzer and many other prizes. … However, there is one prestigious award that is missing from your collection. You have never won the NSNC column writing contest. To the best of our recollection, you have never even entered the contest. So I have to ask you: what’s the matter, Dave? Are you afraid of a little competition? Each year we have some very funny columnists vying for a top cash award of $300. It could be yours. The prize money might not be an incentive to a person of your vast wealth. But the thrill of being presented your certificate by our president next June in New Orleans should move you to accept this challenge: TAKE THE DARE! ENTER THE 2004 NSNC CONTEST!” The entry deadline for the NSNC contest (http://www.columnists.com) is Feb. 15.
Universal is syndicating a Christmas-themed serialized novel designed to run in newspapers Dec. 1-25. “The Holly Wreath Man” — about a man on the brink of losing his family — is by Christopher Scanlan and Katharine Fair. The former is a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute; the latter is an advertising copywriter and substitute teacher. Illustrating the novel is Jillian Gilliland, who draws the Univeral-distributed “Tell Me a Story” feature in collaboration with writer Amy Friedman.
“The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder is scheduled to appear at The Nation magazine’s 138th-anniversary celebration in New York City Dec. 14. Also slated to appear is former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose CIA-employee wife was named in the controversial July column by Robert Novak of the Sun-Times and Creators.
C.Z. Guest, whose gardening column was formerly syndicated by Copley News Service, has died at the age of 83.
Bobby Podesta, an animator at Pixar Animation Studios, has launched a comic called “Six Foot Six Year Old” (http://www.sixfootsixyearold.com). Podesta has worked on Pixar movies such as Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story.
United Press International named Michael Marshall editor in chief of its worldwide editorial operations. He was previously executive editor of The World and I magazine. Also, UPI chief international correspondent Martin Walker was appointed editor of UPI’s English-language operations.
Newcom has expanded to include Al Bawaba, the Middle East-based independent news agency. Also, Newscom — a joint venture of TMS and Knight Ridder — added several sources to its image gallery. They include Images.com, the EFE UGI photo service from Latin America, and the European Pressphoto Agency.
Michael McCann (http://www.businesscafeonline.com) is syndicating a free weekly business column that “covers serious subjects with a touch of levity.”
The Points of Persuasion Syndicate (http://www.p-o-p-s.com) provides free columns written by or on behalf of organizations, public-relations companies, or associations that pay for them.
Oliver Christianson (http://www.revilocartoons.com) has a new pet book called Talk to the Tail Cause the Whiskers Ain’t Listenin’.