Could Arianna Huffington End Up Running AOL?

AOL chief Tim Armstrong could certainly be forgiven for handing off control of the company. The problems at AOL were largely his creation, and recently growth largely that of his lieutenant Arianna Huffington. Pressure from the press is mounting. And, we hear, he has political ambitions.

This week the New York Times aired "new doubts" about AOL's merger with the Huffington Post and about Armstrong's overall strategy, saying, "investor response to these disappointments was emphatic." The finer points of Wall Street's frustration are well understood, but the Times laid bare the differences in Armstrong and Huffington's contributions.

From Armstrong came Patch, the hyperlocal startup he founded and then sold to himself after taking over AOL. It's on track to bleed AOL to the tune of $175 million. The Times says some analysts would like to see Patch closed, which would in one stroke make AOL profitable. It also notes that he'd had to replace his top display executive, and that his own collection of AOL websites have seen traffic flatline.

HuffPo founder and AOL editorial director Arianna Huffington comes off much better:

In contrast to the overall flat [AOL] growth, traffic in The Huffington Post sites has grown around 12 percent since it was acquired, to nearly 35 million... Ms. Huffington, who has a multiyear contract, said that she was as encouraged as ever by AOL, and that there remained more work ahead to integrate The Huffington Post with the rest of the company's sites. "I'm not going anywhere," Ms. Huffington said. "I'm having a great time."

Huffington's track record makes it clear she'd be a disaster atop AOL, long term. Her own former CEO has said her management style, such as it is, did not scale. But Armstrong has already given her a vote of confidence by putting her in charge of all AOL content.

And there might just be an opening atop AOL. One wild rumor circulating among AOL veterans has it that Armstrong plans to throw his hat in the ring for the U.S. Senate, presumably for the old Hillary Clinton seat now occupied by appointee Kirsten Gillibrand. Maybe true, maybe not. But given the buzz about his tenure atop AOL, that's an idea Armstrong should consider if he has not done so already.

[Photo via Getty]