Arianna Huffington is accustomed to a life of wealth. She rides her friends' yachts and jets. She even wanted to buy a plane for the Huffington Post, says an insider. So why's she talking about CEO "excess" on The View?
Today's appearance, which involved a discussion of corporate executive "narcissism" and excess spending (see attached clip), should have been jarring for anyone familiar with Huffington's lifestyle and spending habits. The Brentwood, California-based internet mogul might drive a Prius and engage in environmental posturing, but that doesn't keep her from hitching rides on David Geffen's jet; hopping on a private plane with Ari Emanuel and Larry David for the New Hampshire primaries; or cruising around the ocean on Larry Ellison's enormous yacht (partly owned by Geffen).
Such gallivanting must feel utterly natural to Huffington, a former socialite who started HuffPo from her mansion following an eight-year marriage to wealthy oil scion Michael Huffington. Her spending apparently strikes Huffington as something utterly different from what those evil Wall Street types did.
But Huffington's no penny pincher in the corporate suite, either. Her profligate ways became an issue with HuffPo's board, an insider told us. Huffington denied that charge. But there's no question she throws lavish parties, including HuffPo's A-list inaugural ball at the Newseum in January. And with HuffPo's editorial headquarters in New York, she's constantly racking up travel expenses, including that time, notorious internally, when she sent an assistant across the country and back to fetch her passport.
Also, rather than just rent a Gotham apartment, Huffington became a frequent guest at the Mercer Hotel luxury boutique. And her travel preferences are said to be exactingly cushy: First class, aisle, bulkhead seat on a three-class plane only, fully refundable and non-stop. Preferably American or United. (Huffington, to be fair, sometimes relaxes these requirements for a convenient Southwest Airlines hop to San Francisco or Vegas. Southwest has only one class of seating.)
But that's apparently small time, as far as Huffington is concerned, not to mention a royal pain in the neck to her and the editors she has used as personal secretaries. After one infusion of fresh capital, Huffington was heard internally telling staff that everyone's lives would be greatly improved "once we get the jet."
It would seem that was one spending spree that was never approved, and for good reason: It's an absurd idea. Even assuming Huffington Post is on track to more than double last year's purported revenues of $9 million, as one anonymous insider claims, that's not jet money. (Huffington and her spokesman did not answer repeated inquiries on revenue.) At the absolute low end, the cost would start at $3 million, before you get to operating costs which for jet aircraft are typically in the thousands of dollars per hour. Fractional ownership jets also cost in the multiple thousands of dollars per hour to operate, in addition to an upfront fee starting at several hundred thousand dollars.
Not to mention the fuel guzzled by one of these babies each year cancels out the moderate environmental savings produced by a few fleets of Priuses.
To grasp how absurd such a purchase would be for Huffington at this stage of her corporate career, consider that News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch flew commercial after he'd already assembled a global newspaper empire and bought the 20th Century Fox movie studio and started the Fox television network. He only switched to a private plane, biographer Michael Wolff has written, after then-underling Barry Diller got one first.
And yet Huffington is lecturing America on corporate excess. Luckily for her, being a hypocrite has never really kept the internet publisher from making her political points forcefully — and often quite effectively. The only question is whether it will keep her from building a real business out of her publication.
(Jet pic: A bargain basement Eclipse 500. By Geoff Collins.)