Date posted: 1/08/2017 10 min read

Truth and Trump

Global warming is happening and reference to “alternative facts” should not lead us to doubt it, says media warrior and business leader Arianna Huffington.

In Brief

  • President Donald Trump has posted scathing tweets about Arianna Huffington, who covered the start of his presidential campaign in the “entertainment” section.
  • The rise of digital news platforms has disrupted the media industry and given people more access to different journalistic “truth” than ever before.
  • Huffington advises people to read a range of news sources, not just their favourites, to uncover the truth with complex issues.

“@ariannahuff is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.” 

So said US President Donald Trump in a 2012 tweet. The @ariannahuff in question is Arianna Huffington, co-founder and then editor-in-chief of the huffingtonpost.com, a groundbreaking news and opinion website that today reaches 81 million people worldwide per month (according to its advertising press kit).

In 2009 she was named 12th in Forbes’ list of the 25 Most Influential Women in Media. By 2014 Forbes considered her the 52nd most powerful woman in the world. But I guess you know you’ve really made it when Donald Trump tweets about you.

Huffington’s battles with Trump prefigure the current war on the media being waged by his administration. However, in its substitution of personal for political antagonism, the 2012 tweet perfectly encapsulates the current media climate in the US. 

There is a war of words going on with overtones of violence – in May CNN fired a presenter after she appeared in a video holding a severed head of “Trump”, in July Trump retweeted a picture of himself attacking and beating a man with a CNN logo in his face. It’s a war with public policy undercurrents that will affect the US economy, and through it the world’s prosperity. Huffington is no delicate flower. She gives when she gets. Under her leadership, the Huffington Post (now known more commonly as HuffPost) covered the start of Trump’s presidential campaign in the “entertainment” section.

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HuffPost is exactly the type of mainstream organisation that Trump has labelled the “FAKE NEWS media” and “enemy of the American people. SICK” (caps are in his original tweet). 

Trump has called HuffPost a “glorified blog” and a “clown show”. So it is somewhat ironic that one of the site’s co-founders was alt-right darling Andrew Breitbart, namesake of the Trump-supporting Breitbart News. (Another co-founder of the HuffPost, Jonah Peretti, went on to start BuzzFeed.)

But Huffington doesn’t sweat the abuse. Her former outlet was the first commercial US news website to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Whatever your editorial stance, journalistic objectivity remains a realistic ideal in the face of political attacks on the media, she says.

“Absolutely, since objectivity is just about telling the truth. 

“The earth is not flat. Evolution is a fact. Global warming is a fact.” 

Truth trumps balance

The rise of digital news platforms like the HuffPost has disrupted the media industry and given people more access to different journalistic “truth” than ever before. 

Despite the cacophony of competing voices, Huffington believes digital platforms can fulfil the public oversight role traditionally ascribed to print media.

“I think the lines between digital and print are blurring – there are very few print-only platforms left. So, yes, the media, in whatever form, can fulfil its public oversight duties. And there are many advantages – speed, and the ability to update and stay with a story – to doing it online.” The style in which the media reports is changing, too, particularly in regard to the idea of journalistic “balance”.

Presenting both sides of a story can be a form of disinformation if one side of the story is manifestly true and the other is not, Huffington says.

“Too often the media conflates objectivity with balance. The truth isn’t always in the middle and there aren’t always two sides to everything,” she says.

“So the truth is often found on one side or the other.”

This an important point. A shared understanding of truth underpins our economies and societies and robust public debate is the way effective democracies develop a shared understanding of truth.

The fourth estate is the democratic institution that delivers that core public debate.

“The truth isn’t always in the middle and there aren’t always two sides to everything.”

As Kofi Annan noted in the December 2016 issue of Acuity magazine, in the West many people “take their freedoms and institutions for granted”.

Annan also pointed out that: “The report produced by my commission, the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, in 2012 showed the corrosive impact of money in US politics, for example, which undermines the legitimacy of the democratic system in citizens’ eyes. Such perceptions partly explain the rise of a phenomenon like Mr Trump.”

The truth must be considered

Huffington cautions against reading only your favourite news sources.

“As with a lot of complex issues, like climate change, there’s no one single, comprehensive and definitive source of truth. But there is a truth to be found in consensus of many sources.” A great boon of the digital revolution in the media is that it is now possible to review multiple sources on your phone, tablet or computer, for free. This gives everyone the opportunity to weigh up different points of view.

Huffington says that finding the news is easy - and getting easier – but warns that understanding only comes with the space to think, and says technology can help.

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“The biggest media trend is an acceleration of one we’ve seen for most of the past decade – and that is about meeting people where they are. People increasingly want the media they consume to fit into the pace of their lives, and technology is increasingly adept at giving that to them.

“But I think that one trend we’re going to see more of is about filtering what people consume. So we’re going to see more media tools that allow people to shut off media consumption and build walls between themselves and technology.

“We’re drowning in data, but starved for wisdom.” 

Photograph by Mike McGregor

Information management

Huffington’s new venture, Thrive Global, promotes health strategies and ideas to help businesspeople – particularly in stressful corporate environments – stay healthy and productive.

One of her big priorities is ensuring you get enough sleep. This, she believes, is a key to good information management and decision making.

Lack of sleep can make you grumpy, slow of thought and prone to making poor decisions. Sleep disorders have been linked to health problems including heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Huffington says businesspeople need to value sleep more.

“It’s all about priorities. There are always plenty of appointments in our schedule that we simply make the time to meet – work, dinner plans, catching a train or a plane. We stake out that time in our schedule and we structure the rest of the day around it. So one tip is to think of sleep as an appointment with yourself – one that you stake out, and you adjust the rest of the day accordingly. “But first you have to want to give yourself that time, and more and more people in the business world are realising that sleep – and the things that come with it, like creativity, decision making, increased productivity – are a competitive advantage.”  

If you don’t sleep you may end up like Trump – Huffington has called him a “poster child for sleep deprivation”.

Phone down

“One of my favourite sleep tips is to charge your phone outside your bedroom at night. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep – our to-do lists, our in-boxes, our anxieties. So putting your phone to bed as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes you more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone.”

Putting the phone to bed is a tip the US president might do well to heed, should he be inclined to listen to a woman “unattractive both inside and out”, given his penchant for controversial late-night tweets.

As Huffington told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in January: “I promise you if (Trump) got eight hours sleep and did not tweet in the middle of the night, the next four years would be infinitely better for the world... so I highly recommend that his advisers take the phone away.”

Arianna Huffington was a keynote speaker at the World Business Forum held in Sydney, June 2017.

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