The Right Irreverent And The Left Nut
Huffington and Krassner

In April, I moderated a panel sponsored by The Los Angeles Times, "Writing Funny," with Steve Allen, Sandra Tsing Loh and Arianna Huffington, who -- because of her omnipresence as a guest on TV talk shows -- I referred to as "a Stepford Pundit."

See also...
... by Paul Krassner
... in the Dirt section
... from August 2, 1999

Originally from Greece, Huffington moved to England, where she became president of the Cambridge Union debating society and wrote for the British humor magazine, Punch. In the United States, she hosted a cable show, Critical Mass, and was nominated for an Emmy for comedy writing that was part of Politically Incorrect's coverage of the 1996 presidential conventions. Now a nationally syndicated columnist, she lives with her two daughters in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. This interview was conducted in May by email.

PAUL KRASSNER: With plans for laws such as requiring a drug test before one can get a driver's license, do you see America heading in the direction of friendly fascism?

Arianna Huffington: No. I see it as one more instance of the disastrous "war on drugs." We're locking kids up for possessing marijuana, while legal drug pushers visit high schools to give out pens and pads and little brochures pushing Prozac. I remember "Heather," a heroin user, on a Nightline show a couple of years ago, saying that if you live in a neighborhood where you can't afford $150-an-hour therapists and Prozac, you've got brown-tar heroin down the street to get you through another day. It's ludicrous to continue ignoring the influence of the pharmaceutical companies in fostering the drug culture we're swimming in while spending billions of dollars in a war against it.

PK: Talk about your crusade against mind-altering prescription drugs.

AH: My crusade is against the drugging of our children with anti-depressants that have not even been approved by the FDA for pediatric use -- like Prozac and Luvox. The fact that [Littleton high school shooter] Eric Harris was on Luvox and [Springfield high school shooter] Kip Kinkel was on Prozac makes it all the more urgent that we demand extensive studies of the effects of these drugs on growing brains before we prescribe them in such a cavalier way.

Gods and Monsters

PK: Would you compare the pantheon of pagan gods in Ancient Greece with contemporary worship of celebrities, where fans project their own spiritual bankruptcy onto movie stars and the like?

AH: No, no, no. The gods and goddesses of ancient Greece represented powerful psychological realities. And still today they can serve as guides to forgotten dimensions of our selves. I love them, and I've written a whole book about them -- The Gods of Greece -- with paintings by Francoise Gilot, who was Picasso's lover for ten years.

PK: How would you distinguish between religion and spirituality?

AH: Spirituality is the recognition that there is a universal human drive to find meaning and purpose in our lives. I've called this drive the fourth instinct -- beyond the first three of survival, sex, and power. When religion is alive and vital it helps us reconnect with the spiritual reality in all things, which is, after all, what religion -- from the Latin root religio -- means etymologically. The problem comes when religion becomes calcified and clannish, an outward observation of rules and ceremonies and an intolerance toward the belief of others.

PK: What are your thoughts in retrospect about the John-Roger cult, which you were notoriously a part of? Do you think there were any aspects of brainwashing involved?

AH: My thoughts haven't changed. It is absurd to call it a cult, and equally absurd to call John-Roger's teachings brainwashing.

PK: Peter McWilliams, a former colleague of John-Roger, in his investigative book about cults, What to Do When Your Guru Sues You, detailed several instances of John-Roger's taking sexual advantage of teenage male followers, harassing followers who quit, and using tax-exempt church donations to live luxuriously. Do you believe McWilliams was just making all this stuff up?

AH: I have known John-Roger for over 20 years, and I have zero evidence of any of this.


Strange Bedfellows: from Huffington to Franken

PK: Your ex-husband Michael Huffington's company, Huffco, was fined for selling shock batons to the Indonesian regime. How did you feel about the selling of torture devices to a repressive regime? Or, if you didn't know about it, how do you feel about it retroactively?

AH: I have been extremely critical of the Suharto regime in my columns, and I would have been completely opposed to selling them anything which they could use to further their repression.

PK: If politics makes strange bedfellows, does that explain your alliances with Al Franken? Robert Scheer? Christopher Hitchens? Tom Hayden?

AH: Al is the only one of the four I've been in bed with, but -- I want you to listen to me, I'm not going to say this again -- I did not have sexual relations with that man, Mr. Franken.

PK: How would you contrast Bill Maher and Dennis Miller?

AH: What I like most about Bill Maher and Dennis Miller are their rants. Miller's are complex architectural constructs, Bill's are more free-flowing, but I love them even when I'm straining at the leash to rant back. Also, Bill is in that small group of people -- members of my family and close friends -- that I am no longer objective about. They are members of my little tribe. I love them unconditionally and forgive them everything in advance.

PK: Do you think that easy-reference jokes and name-calling outbursts have replaced true satire?

AH: Easy-reference jokes have always been more crowd-pleasing than true satire. But at its best, to quote Paul Krassner, "That's the function of humor -- it can alter your reality." Political satire at its keenest has always been about speaking truth to power -- sometimes brutally. But when stand-up comics occasionally cross lines and step on toes these days, it's often driven by a naughty desire to prick balloons for the fun of it rather than for the sake of exposing shams and orthodoxies. In other words, we have plenty of irreverence. What is missing is irreverence with a purpose.

PK: What did you think of Larry Flynt's investigation of the private sex lives of prominent politicians to expose their hypocrisy?

AH: "Flynting" is only possible because our political and media cultures have blurred the line between the private and public realms. Since sex trumps everything, expecting restraint from the ratings-obsessed media is foolhardy. So putting an end to the "Flynting" of America depends entirely on our political leaders refusing to answer questions about their sex lives. Unless a politician has broken the law, there is only one legitimate answer to the illegitimate probing of private lives. "It's none of your business."

PK: Would you describe your personal campaign concerning polls?

AH: The Partnership for a Poll-Free America is a campaign started by Harry Shearer (comedian, writer, voice of Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner on The Simpsons, Spinal Tap member) and myself. The paradox of modern politics is that Americans yearn for a strong leader at the very moment politicians have become slavish followers of the most shallow reading of the electorate's whims and wishes. Polling has become a substitute for leading, and poll-quoting a substitute not only for debating, but for thinking.

Polling has also become another tool in the hands of the establishment front-runners. Lengthy articles are written about horse-race polls, which are then circulated by handlers and fund-raisers to convince donors and PACs that the other candidates are already out of it. This leads to more money and more endorsements, fewer resources left over for rival candidates, more positive snapshots by the pollsters, and so on. Snapshots harden into portraits, predictions become coronations, and the status quo goes on unchallenged.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura's victory was predicted by no national or statewide poll. Ventura was also the only statewide candidate whose campaign did not hire a pollster.

Anyone who wants to join our campaign can come to my web site -- -- and take a pledge not to talk to pollsters ever again. (You can talk to them socially, just not when they're conducting a poll.) The dirty little secret of the polling industry is that the response rate is down to 33 to 34 percent. In other words, two-thirds of Americans are already refusing to talk to pollsters. To wean our political leaders off their daily numbers habit, what we need to do is make the numbers themselves completely unreliable. That's as easy as hanging up your phone. That's right, every time a pollster calls, you can help save our democracy by simply putting the receiver in its cradle.

PK: For me, when Joey Buttafuoco was offered a TV talk show and Harry Shearer wasn't, it represented the ultimate triumph of notoriety over talent. How dangerous do you think this trend is?

AH: It's dangerous to some extent, but notoriety can't do the job talent can, so they'll be back to ask Harry to do a show. And I can't wait.

Paul Krassner's Impolite Interviews (Seven Stories Press) and Pot Stories For the Soul (High Times Books) will both be published in September.