Have you seen Huffington’s Toast? No, I don’t mean Arianna Huffington’s group of celebrity friends, who began their much-hyped entry into the blogosphere last week. That’s the Huffington Post, a serious, well-financed venture that means to do some good in the world by countering all those previously obscure right-wing bloggers with some well-known liberal names.
The Huffington’s Toast parody site, on the other hand, is a cheap hobby that exists for no other reason than to make fun of Arianna’s best intentions. It’s mean, unfair, occasionally illogical–every other entry seems to be about Glenn Reynolds, who has nothing to do with the Huffington Post–and far funnier than it has any right to be. Naturally, I’m a huge fan.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the Huffington Post. For one thing, Andrew Breitbart, whom Arianna hired away from Matt Drudge to run the Huffington Post’s news section, is a friend, so I’d like to see the thing succeed for his sake. As a blogger and a Los Angeles journalist, I wish all new media ventures well, especially those based in L.A. (Full disclosure: Andrew asked me to contribute to the Post, but I don’t believe in providing free content to zillionaires.)
I also found Nikki Finke’s tirade in the L.A. Weekly against the Huffington Post, a scant ten hours after its debut, rather extreme. “She has now made an online ass of herself,” Nikki wrote of Arianna. A rather confident pronouncement coming from someone who, until she pretended to be a lawyer warning me against insulting Nikki Finke, was so unfamiliar with blogs she didn’t even know commenter IPs can be easily checked. She does now.
But although I think the Huffington Post newswire is pretty good–that’s where I first happened across last week’s fascinating baby-rescued-by-nursing-dog story–so far I’m afraid that the blog contains an awful lot of noodling, and the celebrity contributors haven’t exactly bothered to hide their I’m-way-too-busy-to-spend-time-on-this attitude and airy contempt for readers.
Here’s a typical example: “Birth. We take the whole thing for granted–the result of heavy petting,” writes Cheryl Saban, wife of producer Haim Saban, about watching her daughter give birth at home. “But it is difficult, and it can be complicated…sometimes tragically so.”
Now she tells us.
Meanwhile, the maniacally energetic Huffington’s Toast is filled with entries like this one, “not really by Arianna Huffington,” illustrated by a tiny mug shot of the Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado as Arianna:
Arianna’s other site, The Huffington Post, the greatest thing ever to happen in the history of the universe since community property, has been de-linked by Matt Drudge. A shabby little man who goes on national television in a hat he clearly bought at a drugstore. Arianna knows what is going on. Arianna’s houseboy used to be Matt Drudge’s houseboy. I hired him away, and now Matt Drudge is going through the horror of interviewing new help. No longer are Matt Drudge’s knick-knacks arranged just so. No longer is his potpourri changed twice daily. His gaudy plated Martha Stewart Living flatware disappears. He finds empty pints of ouzo behind the divan, just like the unfortunate people back in Greece who hired Arianna’s mother to clean toilets and milk goats [ANDREW PLEASE DELETE THAT LAST SENTENCE I CANNOT REMEMBER WHICH IS THE ERASE KEY].
By Saturday, the real Arianna took a short break with the announcement she was off to Greece. But the parody site just kept going, with a “Seniorcise is Painless” entry “not really by Larry Gelbart,” plus a post from the “Greek Enforcement Desk, Dept. of Irrigation and Naturalization” informing Arianna that because of the “tedious, self-absorbed, mind-numbing ‘journalism’ that is your ‘blog,’” she would not be allowed back into the U.S: “To spare you any embarrassment–additional embarrassment, that is–we have prepared a cover story for you. Simply tell your reader(s) that you are going to Greece on vacation.”
At this point, I suspect that some of Arianna’s new bloggers are beginning to wonder why they got themselves into this. Say you’re a perfectly comfortable Hollywood rich person like Mrs. Larry David or Mrs. Haim Saban or Mr. Rob Reiner, and you take a few moments from your busy day to tap out something about environmental toilet paper, or the miracle of home birth, or how Bush is bad. Then you innocently send it out into cyberspace without realizing the thing is a dud, at which point some little no-name blogger catches it, pulls the pin, and tosses it back–whereupon it blows up in your face in a giant explosion of snark.
Andrew Breitbart, at least, seems to be taking all this in stride. “I saw Huffington’s Toast and it cracked me up,” he told me, “but then I had to get back to work.” I asked if there had been any tears-in-the-ladies-room episodes yet from the celebrity bloggers, in the wake of such merciless criticism about the more inane entries.
“If they’re running to the bathroom we haven’t heard about it,” Andrew responded. “What I have heard through the grapevine is that people are invigorated by the experience.”
Meanwhile, Steve H., best known for the blog Hog On Ice before he began Huffington’s Toast with the help of bloggers Aaron, Allah, Moxie, Protein Wisdom, and Sharpknife, is having a field day with an average of 7000 unique hits per day. (The Huffington Post won’t talk about traffic, but it quickly rose to #14 in the Truth Laid Bear blog ecosystem; on the other hand it had just 20 links from Technorati when I checked last week, the same as Huffington’s Toast.)
“One unfortunate thing about a floundering vanity blog, unlike a misleading tendentious book about putative lies told by conservatives,” Steve H. told me, “is that the DNC can’t buy up copies to inflate estimates of its popularity. Not that I’m thinking of any book in particular.”
When not blogging, Steve H. is a lawyer named Steve H. Graham, which is why he’s excessively careful not to illustrate his parody entries with actual photos of their targets. This is just as well, as the substitute illustrations are some of the funniest things about the site. I particularly liked the alarm siren for Matt Drudge’s face and the small, bug-eyed primate for runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks.
“I always thought Martha Stewart was a dead ringer for Richard Harris,” Graham noted, “so I Photoshopped a little lipstick on him, and voila. Instant byline photo. My hope is that, being dead, he will not feel up to engaging counsel.”
–Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.