FLOTSAM & JETSAM: The Huffington-AOL deal

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Huffington-AOL deal

Sam Smith

The collapse of liberalism as a strong political voice got a new shove with Arianna Huffington selling her liberal readers to the corporate conglomerate AOL.

The news came just about two weeks after the New Yorker revealed that 80% of AOL's profits come from subscriptions and, as Consumerist put it, "75% of those users are people who subscribe to the dial-up service and don't need. Basically we're talking about folks who have another kind of ISP and don't realize that you don't need to pay AOL anymore if you're just using it for email. The group can be further divided into two sub-groups, the old, and the lazy."

Consumerist then went on to give a step by step process for canceling AOL "and saving some cash while still keeping access to your AOL email account."

In Daily Beast, Dan Lyons adds to the story, quoting Nick Denton of Gawker: "Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?"

Lyons continues:

|||| Much of AOL’s dysfunction was laid bare just one week ago when Business Insider, a blog, got hold of a leaked AOL memo called “The AOL Way,” which purports to instruct AOL’s hacks on how to practice their craft. It’s all about making stories based on traffic potential and profit potential. It’s all about numbers—and volume. It’s a depressing, sickening, embarrassing document. AOL’s hacks are expected to write five to 10 articles a day. . . Business Insider quoted one AOL 'journalist' as saying, “AOL is the most fucked up, bullshit company on earth,” and then adding that joining AOL was “the worst career move I’ve ever made.” ||||

This development also seems like another step in turning the Internet into something more resembling closed door cable TV - which has, for example, saved Americans from the curse of Al Jazeera - than the free and open system that cyberspace was supposed to be. AOL - like its younger version, Facebook - basically aims at keeping readers away from the full glory of the web and on its limited pages instead.

But there are political implications as well. As we have pointed out for a couple of decades, American liberalism has been in steady decline, trading in past goals for the illusion of power - e.g. Clinton and Obama - and becoming far more an elite iconography than a broad-based ideology.

Key to the shift has been the desertion of the former emphasis on economic concerns of most Americans in favor of a pseudo admiration of social equality that in fact mainly favors those well enough off to break glass ceilings but not those of the same gender or ethnicity stuck with cleaning wooden floors.

For example, the Huffington-AOL merger was announced just a few days after Arianna Huffington returned from participating in the Davos conference, perhaps the largest annual gathering on those most culpable for the world's problems. Or consider the fact that liberals went wild over Obama becoming president and didn't even notice that the Senate ended up without a single black member.

Huffington Post has some very progressive contributors and readers, but the overall tone of the operation has become increasingly merged in soul with the sort of people with which it has now become merged in legal agreement.

The sooner we recognize the true difference between today's liberalism and that of true populist, progressive, socialist and Green movements we will begin to recreate a left of meaning rather than of merely nice words.