Arianna Huffington was born Arianna Stassinopoulos on May 15, 1950 in Athens, Greece. Her mother, Elli, was active in the Communist-led Greek resistance movement during World War II. Her journalist father, Constantine, edited the resistance newspaper Paron, survived internment in a Nazi concentration camp, and became a publisher after the war. When Arianna was 16, her parents divorced, and she and her younger sister moved with their mother to England.
There, Arianna attended Cambridge University, where she studied Keynesian economics at Girton College; one of her tutors was the Maoist economist Joan Robinson. At Cambridge, Arianna became the first foreign-born female president of the famed Cambridge Union debating society and an outspoken Tory as well. She graduated in 1972 with a master’s degree in economics.
After dating John Selwyn Gummer, a young Conservative Member of Parliament, and journalist Simon Jenkins, Arianna met and settled into a close eight-year relationship with Times of London columnist Bernard Levin, 22 years her senior, whom she did not marry – though she would later describe him (following his death in 2004) as “the big love of my life.” While with Levin, Arianna in 1974 published her first book, The Female Woman, which was a response to Germaine Greer’s best-seller The Female Eunuch that accused orthodox feminists of denigrating women’s freedom to choose marriage and motherhood.
In search of spirituality, Arianna read the collected works of psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. In the 1970s she became a disciple of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose cult practiced open sexual intercourse among its members, and with its leader, as a central sacrament of their faith. This cult later moved to America’s West Coast and attempted to take over an Oregon town. As Judith Miller and two other New York Times investigative reporters recounted in their 2001 book Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, the Rajneesh cult spread potentially lethal Salmonella bacteria in this town. The cult members did this as a way of trying to infect and incapacitate other town residents on election day, so that cult voters could win control of the local government. Moreover, Bhagwan devotees were directed to purchase numerous Rolls Royce automobiles – more than 90 in all – for their leader (who died in 1990). “It was like knowing there was another dimension to life and that I wanted to experience it, knowing that nothing else mattered as much,” Huffington later told Stephanie Mansfield of the Washington Post about this time of her life. “It took me over completely.”
Out of this spiritual experience, Arianna in 1979 published her second book, After Reason (which was also published in England under the title The Other Revolution). In it, she criticized both the political right and left for doing too little for society’s poor.
In the 1970s as well, Arianna met the man who remained her spiritual guide for many years thereafter, John-Roger Hinkins, founder of a New Age church apparently spun off from the ECKANKAR cult teachings of Paul Twitchell. She joined — and became an ordained “Minister of Light” in — Hinkins’s Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), a cult that ex-members described as sexually and financially exploitive in a series of Los Angeles Times exposés.
One disciple of Hinkins was the New York Times best-selling author Peter McWilliams. As a de-programmed ex-member, McWilliams wrote the exposé Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You (1994). In this book, McWilliams alleged that the charismatic Hinkins had told McWilliams that he (McWilliams) could be cured of AIDS if he wrote books giving Hinkins co-authorship and at least half of the books’ profits, which the “brainwashed” McWilliams agreed to do. To this day, Hinkins insists that he himself was the chief writer of such co-authored best-sellers as Life 101, and implies that McWilliams was more his scribe than a co-equal author.
In Life 102 McWilliams described how Arianna Huffington, too, had been duped by Hinkins and had become a major contributor to MSIA. McWilliams released to the press a video of Arianna in a white robe being baptized by Hinkins.
In March 1978, Arianna also became involved with an organization called Insight, which gave seminars and workshops that, as she once put it, gave her and the other participants “an opportunity to discover, in ways that lie much beyond the mental, what we are and what our relationship to our world is.”
In 1980 Arianna moved to New York City and soon began to tour the United States to promote her new book about a Greek operatic diva, Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend. In 1988 she published a biography of Pablo Picasso, titled Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, which was the subject of a lawsuit from one of Picasso’s mistresses whom Arianna had interviewed.
In the United States, Arianna dated a variety of men. Among them were real-estate tycoon and U.S. News & World Report Editor-in-Chief Mort Zuckerman and former California Governor Jerry Brown. Dole Pineapple CEO David Murdoch and his wife then introduced Arianna to Texas oil millionaire Michael Huffington, whom she married in April 1986 in a wedding ceremony financed as a gift by Ann Getty.
Heir to approximately $80 million from the sale of his family’s oil company, Michael Huffington spent $5.4 million in 1992 to win a seat in Congress from Santa Barbara, California. In 1994 he spent $30 million of his own money on the most expensive U.S. Senate race in history when he ran against incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein and narrowly lost. One issue contributing to this defeat was public concern over Arianna Huffington’s links to the John-Roger Hinkins cult. “He has more influence on her than anyone else in the world,” Michael Huffington years later told the New York Times of Arianna’s relationship with Hinkins.
In 1995, the new Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, helped make Arianna Huffington a senior fellow at his conservative think tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, creating its “Center for Effective Compassion” (her name and idea) to advocate volunteerism as an alternative to the welfare state. Huffington also hosted the talk show Critical Mass on Republican Party-attuned National Empowerment Television, and her column in the conservative Washington Times newspaper was soon syndicated nationwide.
Huffington’s relationship with Gingrich soured abruptly for reasons unexplained. (In her 2000 book How To Overthrow the Government, Huffington claims it was because Gingrich did not care about the poor.) Returning to California after her husband Michael was forced to give up his congressional seat when he ran for the Senate, Huffington quickly organized a quite different social scene around herself — consisting of media leftists like Harry Shearer, Bill Maher, Al Franken, and Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer.
Soon Huffington became a frequent guest on television, embraced by Maher and Franken. In 1996 the cable channel Comedy Central made Franken and Huffington a team covering that year’s political conventions, and Huffington was nominated for an Emmy for her role in this coverage. She was able to keep her credibility as a conservative, however, by hammering President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair and impeachment process.
During this period, Huffington continued to write books. Her 1993 coffee-table volume The Gods of Greece described the deities of Greek mythology as representing “powerful psychological realities.” In 1994 she wrote about her continuing spiritual exploration in Fourth Instinct: The Call of the Soul. And, while ostensibly still a conservative, she wrote about PresidentClinton’s sex scandal in a 1998 novel, Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom.
Following her divorce, Arianna’s political positions, which had formerly been rather conservative, shifted dramatically towards the left. Before long, she described herself as a “progressive independent” from “the fourth dimension of political time and space.” “She’s a chameleon,” Michael Huffington told the New York Times to describe his former wife.
In 2000, Arianna Huffington was deeply involved in staging the “Shadow Conventions,” media propaganda shows designed to undermine Republicans and nudge Democrats farther to the political left. These mock “conventions” were organized by the “Shadow Party” organizations funded by George Soros and other wealthy leftists.
In 2003 Huffington ran as an independent candidate in the California election that recalled incumbent Democratic Governor Gray Davis. She directed almost all her fire toward consensus Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ultimately won the election. One of Huffington’s chief campaign advisors during this race was her close personal friend Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink. The revolutionary Communist Van Jones, who would later serve in the Obama administration, also worked on Huffington’s campaign. But Huffington did poorly in pre-election polls and thus withdrew from the race on September 30. One issue that cut against her was that despite living in a $7 million mansion, holding and making huge amounts of money, and demanding higher taxes on corporations, she herself had paid only $771 in federal taxes over the previous two years.
During the gubernatorial campaign of 2003, Huffington spoke out against capital punishment: “I’m philosophically opposed to the death penalty and very opposed to the way it has been applied in California and across the country. At a time when new DNA testing has known that innocent people are being put to death by government, I absolutely would want a moratorium. The only reason we do not have more elected officials asking for a moratorium is because they only follow the polling results and they are spineless to speak their own minds and hearts.”
On May 9, 2005, Huffington launched HuffingtonPost.com, a website openly intended to do for the political left what Matt Drudge’s DrudgeReport.com had done to coalesce the right. As the New York Times reported, Huffington hired for, her new website, Drudge’s “right-hand web whiz, Andrew Breitbart.”
In March 2008, Huffington addressed the annual Take Back America Conference hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future in Washington, D.C. In 2010 she addressed that same gathering, which had been renamed as the America’s Future Now Conference.
In 2008 Huffington said the following about illegal immigrants: “The truth, as anyone who thinks about it for a minute realizes, is that undocumented immigrants already have paid a price for their pursuit of the American dream, often starting with an expensive and harrowing journey into this country and continuing with years of low-paying toil at one of those famous ‘jobs Americans don’t want to do’ – usually for the benefit of a business that would prefer to keep its labor costs to a minimum by hiring the cheapest workers. They do this work without the benefits and protections that citizens receive, even though they often pay their fair share in taxes. Contributions from undocumented immigrants using fake Social Security numbers total 10 percent of the annual Social Security surplus, which is about $50 billion. Low-skilled immigrants contribute as much as $10 billion to the U.S. economy every year.”
In a May 2008 interview with John Stossel, Huffington reflected upon her political evolution: “I definitely called myself a conservative [at one time]. I actually believed that the private sector would be able to address a lot of the issues that I believed were very important, like taking care of those in need. And then I saw firsthand how difficult it was…. One of the problems with the Right is that they don’t believe in facts, and they don’t believe in evidence. And I was willing to change my mind, confronted with new evidence. And we would all be better off if we were willing to look at new evidence.” Huffington’s new position, she told Stossel, was that “we need … serious government policies to address poverty.” She also stated that welfare reform (which had been enacted in 1996) was “not a success” because it had left “a lot of people … without job training and therefore without the ability to really lead productive lives.” When Stossel then pointed out that eight million people had left the welfare rolls as a result of that reform, and that many of them had gone on to find gainful employment, Huffington retorted: “…But you know we have over 30 million Americans living below the poverty line.” When Stossel informed her that the percentage of families living below the poverty line had fallen considerably since 1996, Huffington said: “The fact that we used to live in caves is not a justification for the state of affairs right now.”
In the same interview, Huffington boasted that she drove a Prius hybrid vehicle in an effort to help reduce the carbon emissions that she believed were associated with global warming. When Stossel pointed out that Huffington “also has a $7-million house that burns more carbon than a hundred people in the Third World,” Huffington replied: “There is no question that the fact that I’m living in a big house, I occasionally travel on private planes – all those things are contradictions. I’m not setting myself up as some paragon who only goes around on a bicycle.”
On the premise that the greenhouse gases associated with human industrial activity are key contributors to a potentially catastrophic “climate crisis,” Huffington in 2008 criticized the George W. Bush administration for having “consistently opposed taxes or regulations or mandatory caps to reduce, or even just stabilize, greenhouse-gas emissions.” (She revisited this theme in In 2014 when she wrote: “According to analysis by Climate Central, ’13 of the hottest 15 years on record have all occurred since 2000 and … the odds of that happening randomly without the boost of [anthropogenic] global warming is 1 in 27 million.’”)
In September 2009, Huffington traveled to the West Bank and condemned Israeli injustices as the major cause of ongoing hostilities in the Middle East. She wrote: “The security wall. The roadblocks and barbed wire. The separate roads that the Palestinians have to use. The checkpoints and ‘buffer zones.’ The very large, sprawling, and very permanent-looking Israeli settlements carved out on Palestinian land. No wonder Palestinians feel like strangers in their own land. Taking it all in, it’s hard not to feel weighed down by a sense of hopelessness over the divisions that seem even more entrenched and permanent than the intruding settlements themselves.”
In 2012, Huffington supported President Barack Obama‘s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) executive action, by which he gave hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens temporary legal status and protection from potential deportation. “While DACA is primarily a public policy issue—one that affects millions of people when you take family members into account—it’s also a mental health one,” Huffington wrote on her Facebook page in 2015. In a June 2013 appearance on ABC’s This Week, she said that deportations of illegal aliens constituted “a real tragedy” and “a nightmare for families,” “a bit like a gulag.”
On December 4, 2012, Huffington and several other “influential progressive” advisers (as they were described by White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest) met with President Obama to brainstorm about how they could most effectively persuade the American public that raising taxes on people earning $250,000 or more would be good public policy. Also in attendance at the meeting were Rachel Maddow, Al Sharpton, Lawrence O’Donnell, and MSNBC host Ed Schultz.
In August 2016, Huffington announced that she planned to leave The Huffington Post in order to launch Thrive Global, a digital platform dedicated to health and wellness issues. In a memo to her Huffington Post staff, she explained: “I’ve become more and more passionate — okay, obsessed — with burnout and stress and how we can reduce their impact on our lives. One of the Thrive principles is knowing when it’s time for a new chapter to begin.”
In a long exposé published in November 2017, Gizmodo.com columnist Melanie Ehrenkranz issued a report about “Huffington’s well-documented history of fostering a toxic work culture and failing to address inappropriate behavior [at the Huffington Post].” Based on interviews with former Huffington Post staffers, Ehrenkranz accused Huffington of having “turn[ed] a blind eye” to the sexual misconduct of top editor Jimmy Soni, who, in 2014, amid rumors that he had sexually harassed a number of female employees, was suddenly reassigned to New Delhi to help launch HuffPost India.
Huffington today views capitalism as an economic system that has become morally bankrupt: “It was clear among many of the founders of capitalism that there had to be a moral foundation. What happened is that capitalism was reduced to Ayn Rand-ian selfishness. We need to recapture the principle that you do well, but in the process of doing well, you give back.”
Over the years, Huffington has earned a spot in Time magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People In The World,” and the Forbes list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” In addition to the books cited previously in this profile, she has also published such titles as: How to Overthrow the Government (2000); Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America (2003); Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America (2004); On Becoming Fearless … in Love, Work, and Life (2007); Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (2008); Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream (2010); Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder (2015); and The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time (2016).