On a recent Sunday afternoon, Arianna Huffington, the 61-year-old editorial director of the newly merged AOL–Huffington Post, gathers a group of children around her on a white rug, reading a series of stories. Her outfit—tuxedo jacket, sensible pants, hair lightened to the color of Donald Trump’s and with a similarly distinctive swirl—is a little more formal than the event, a spa open to the public, calls for today, but in every other way this “oasis,” as she puts it, is a reflection of Huffington’s habits: a “cell-phone check” at a concierge desk (a sign encourages guests to “give your phone a boost while you unplug inside”), blue yoga mats rolled up in a bin (“I do yoga every morning”), a chef making smoothies with names like You’ve Got the Beet, and a buffet with Greek yogurt—“the best in the world,” she explains, pushing it forward. “Eat. My mother used to say if you didn’t eat every twenty minutes, there was something wrong with you.”
Even the books that Huffington has selected for her reading session mirror her adult concerns—there’s Goodnight Moon; Stop Snoring, Bernard!;and a heap of others on the theme of sleep, a topic on which she can hold forth at length (and, indeed, she encourages her writers to file stories on sleep, such as “What Your Sleep Position Says About You” and “The Lost Art of Dreaming”). “Since I moved from L.A., I find the noise of New York City is great during the day, but it’s difficult to disconnect,” she says. “Sometimes, I have to sleep with my Bose headphones on.” She’s never taken sleeping pills and conks out on planes as long as she has “my kit, my socks, my music, which comes from MTV founder Tom Freston—he has made me the best playlist, which gives me so much joy.”
Huffington turns her considerable charisma on the children at her feet. “Who likes to nap?” she asks. “You know, in the AOL–Huffington Post offices we have two nap rooms, and grown-up people like me can even go in in the middle of the day and take a nap, and then they can come out recharged and ready to play hard.”
The kids look confused.
“Tell me, why do you like to go to sleep?” she says, turning to a curly-headed kid in a sweatshirt.
“Because I can dream that I’m in a magical land,” he says.
“And what’s in that magical land?” asks Huffington.
“Fantastic,” she says, smiling widely. “I think we should all do that tonight—dream of a magical land with happy stuff.”
For Huffington, who, on the one hand, serves as a glittery Earth Mother and, on the other, is the world’s best bullshit artist, with stagehands and pulleys at work in conversation (although, oddly, she remains intensely enjoyable to be around), AOL is in some respects a “magical land.” The company has allowed her access to corporate funding for the Huffington Post website, and she seems to believe her new perch will recast her from a protean self-reinventionist—at various times a Greek immigrant, New York socialite, New Age proponent, political wife, California gubernatorial candidate, and on and on—into something more solid: the Rupert Murdoch of the digital age, helming the world’s most influential “Internet newspaper,” as the Huffington Post is called.
The domination of news is clearly her goal, even news as defined as a mix of aggregation, original content, and unapologetic linkbait (stories like “What Time Does the Super Bowl Start?” or “Sex With Animals Can Lead to Penis Cancer: Study”), but in a way journalism is a cover for her larger gifts, which are as a cultural magician. Would Rupert Murdoch lock eyes with a reporter and say that, in addition to sleep, “I think that the next big thing is going to be disconnecting,” as Huffington does? “We need to create a ‘GPS for the soul’ app, one that will let us know when we’re off course,” she says. “This will be a bigger and bigger part of our lives in the future, I think.”
The squirming kids are soon quieted by the rhythmic purr of her voice going up and down, down and up, as she reads a couple of books in rapid succession, then announces, “Who wants to come with me to get a blueberry smoothie?” A small cup in hand, she drifts to a massage room, where an assistant hands out aromatherapy patches (“Put it on your skin, and it will transform your day”), and lumpen figures relax under billowing white curtains. “You know, I set up an oasis once before, at the Democratic convention in 2008,” says Huffington. “We had some bloggers come by, and Charlie Rose, for yoga and mini-facials. But it was nothing like this!” She laughs. “No, no. Back then I didn’t have the budget.”