Pundit Defines Fearlessness

Midway through Arianna Huffington's latest book, On Becoming Fearless ... In Love, Work and Life, she writes, "If you want to succeed big, there is no substitute for simply sticking your neck out.''

Huffington, the acid-tongued pundit who kicks rhetorical butt all over the cable dial, knows. Growing up as gangly 5-foot-10 Arianna Stassinopoulous in Athens, Greece, where most of the men didn't get that tall, she has always stood out from the crowd.

On Monday, she'll speak about fearless leadership to a big one at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where The Power Within for Women takes place. (The Star is a sponsor and I will introduce her onstage.)

"The prevailing models of leadership today have been the leader as panderer or the leader as fear monger, whipping up a climate of fear," she says in her book. "We need a new model of leadership, one that doesn't involve leading through fear but rather leading through bringing out what Lincoln called `the better angels of our nature.'"

Huffington hopes that more women, including her teenage daughters Christina and Isabella, find the courage to step up to the podium -- and the plate.

"I define fearlessness not as the absence of fear but as the mastery of fear," she tells me over the phone from her Los Angeles office. "It's basically standing up for what you believe, speaking out, despite our fears."

In her book, she draws on friends such as writer Nora Ephron, and actors Diane Keaton and Melina Kanakaredes (CSI: NY) who share what it takes to conquer their own worst enemies: themselves.

Women, Huffington explains, "all have what I call the obnoxious roommate living in our heads, that negative voice. The voice that puts us down. That criticizes us. That tells us we're never good enough, pretty enough, smart enough.

"I write about how to lower (its) volume."

Of course, with Huffington, 57, it is far from just talk.

She holds an MA in economics from Cambridge, where she became president of the Cambridge Union debating society.

After graduation, she moved to London to be with the journalist-broadcaster Bernard Levin, a much older man with whom she was deeply in love. But when he refused to marry her, she "put an ocean" between them and headed to the U.S.

Now she credits that stymied desire for domesticity for her current stature, which includes landing on Time's 100 Most Influential People list last year.

With 10 books to her name, a (failed) marriage to the wealthy -- and bisexual -- Republican congressman Michael Huffington, a political flip-flop in the 1990s when she saw that compassionate conservatism wasn't so compassionate, plus a run at the California governorship against Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003, it seems that Huffington has already lived a lifetime.

Especially when you throw in motherhood: `'I sometimes think that when they take the baby out, they put the guilt in.''

Today she has a third child, The Huffington Post, the progressive website that, since 2005, has zoomed to the top of the blogosphere.

"The Huffington Post, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, a lot of what's happening online is definitely providing an antidote to the mainstream media,'' she insists. "The public gets multiple voices while we hold the mainstream media's feet to the fire."

Case in point: Marshall and his readers ferreted out how the Bush administration was firing U.S. attorneys for what seem to be political motives. The scandal could cost attorney general Alberto Gonzales his job.

"Imagine in the lead-up to the war if we had a much more active blogosphere so that we wouldn't have had inaccurate stories about Saddam Hussein having aluminum tubes on the front page of The New York Times," Huffington says.

But, she admits, blogs can't do it all: they need the resources to cover the stories the corporate media are not covering. "That is the next step," she says.

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