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Arianna Huffington laughs while sitting for a photograph in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 3, 2017. (DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Arianna Huffington laughs while sitting for a photograph in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 3, 2017. (DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Arianna Huffington stands by Trump coverage during U.S. election Add to ...

Arianna Huffington is in Vancouver to talk about sleep; she’s recently published a book about it. So with the two main topics I want to talk to her about – U.S. President Donald Trump and the media – and fifteen minutes to do so, first things first: Did she manage to get any sleep on election night?

“No,” she says, explaining that she was in Milan, Italy, with her daughter. “Even someone like me, who is a huge sleep evangelist, there are times when I don’t succeed.”

Ms. Huffington, 66, is the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Huffington Post. The liberal-leaning site was launched in 2005, and its role as a new media disruptor cannot be denied. Primarily a news aggregator, HuffPo (or HuffPost) does some of its own reporting. But it also uses unpaid bloggers and delights in click-bait. The site was purchased by AOL in 2011; Ms. Huffington left the company last year. She has launched a new platform, Thrive Global, which deals with personal well-being. She has published a long list of books; most recently Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder and The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

It’s the latter topic – sleep – that she’s in Vancouver to speak about to the Young Presidents’ Organization, an international by-invitation-only group of young chief executive officers. In a media interview before her YPO address, we focus on U.S. politics.

“I feel that so much has changed since the inauguration and the changes have led to the press taking a very different stance. Because if you look at the press covering Trump during the campaign and the press covering him now, it’s very different. The New York Times would not have put the word ‘lies’ on the front page during the campaign, even though he was lying. Even the words racist or sexist, they were reluctant to use those,” she says.

Huffington Post made headlines of its own with its coverage of the election campaign; in particular the 2015 decision to cover Mr. Trump’s campaign as entertainment – it was a “sideshow” HuffPo said. After it rescinded that decision a few months later, it added a scathing editor’s note to each piece that covered Mr. Trump.

Ms. Huffington says she does not feel that covering his campaign as entertainment was a mistake.

“No, I’m really very proud of our coverage,” she says. “I think at the beginning, treating him as entertainment meant basically that we’re acknowledging that the reason he was covered the way he was covered is because he was very good for the ratings. He was entertaining; he was not your typical politician repeating sound bites.”

I asked whether HuffPo should have taken him more seriously more quickly.

“Even when we were covering him in the entertainment section, we were covering him. We were covering him as the clear and present danger that he was. So I think our putting him first in the entertainment section was really more of a statement to our readers that this was not just a normal candidate with whom you disagree. This is not Mitt Romney, this is not even Ted Cruz. This is someone as we are seeing who’s very erratic and now … we don’t really know what the next four years will bring.”

Ms. Huffington says she thinks the media’s coverage of the presidency and the public engagement that we’re seeing now are positive outcomes of Mr. Trump’s election. When I ask about negative outcomes, she says she is disturbed by the cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and his actions on immigration.

“[It] starts with the people most vulnerable – the immigrants who are being deported, families torn apart, and what’s coming, we don’t know.”

But she adds that large numbers of immigrants were also deported under Barack Obama. She also argues that the previous eight years, with Mr. Obama in the White House, led to the inequalities that led to Mr. Trump’s success.

“The conditions were allowed to be created in which a populist, nationalist demagogue could win an election,” she says. “And I think that really should be a reminder for every country around the world that basically, you ignore growing inequalities – in the case of the States you ignore the collapse of the American dream – at your peril.”

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