Fact-Checking Arianna Huffington, Reluctant Prognosticator


Arianna Huffington doesn't do predictions. "I don't do predictions," is how she herself put it on Tuesday afternoon at a panel discussion on the future of media hosted by I Want Media, in response to a question about the Huffington Post's future traffic growth. "I live day by day."

Isn't that nice? For the record, however, Huffington most certainly does predictions. In fact, it only took her about 30 minutes after saying "I don't do predictions" to offer up her next prediction. Invited to muse aloud about what the world will look like in five years, she said, "I can offer one prediction: Pay walls aren't going to work."

Asked, in a follow up, whether she would therefore advise News Corp. (NWS) chairman Rupert Murdoch to abandon his plan to introduce pay models on all of his company's news websites, Huffington drew a laugh with her puckish reponse: "Oh, no, no. Go ahead." (Huffington, you see, is not a fan of Murdoch because he is a conservative while her current persona is liberal, and because he has been a vocal critic of news aggregators like the Huffington Post.)

But it may be best if Huffington refrains from doing any predictions, seeing as she is not all that accurate even when talking about the empirically-observable present. Earlier in the discussion of pay walls, Huffington strayed from reality-based discourse into wishful thinking when she argued that it's possible to make consumers pay for certain types of online content, such as "really weird porn," but not for news. Newspapers like Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, which charge for online access, are only benefiting from free sites like the Huffington Post, not themselves, she said, adding "The Wall Street Journal's subscription universe is shrinking."

You guessed it: The Wall Street Journal's subscription universe isn't shrinking. In fact, the Journal was the only one of the 25 largest U.S. newspapers to record an increase in circulation in the latest measurement period, albeit of a mere 0.5%. (Since it charges for its website, the Journal is able to count online-only subscriptions toward its paid circulation total while the other big papers, none of which have paid models yet, can't.)