Huffington urges students to change public perceptions

Elise Foley

Political blogger Arianna Huffington was driving her Lincoln Navigator after Sept. 11, 2001, when she saw another Navigator covered in American flags.

She first thought it was patriotic, but soon she traded her Navigator for a Toyota Prius, Huffington told about 120 students at Ryan Family Auditorium on Thursday at a lecture co-sponsored by Students for Ecological and Environmental Development and College Democrats.

“Wouldn’t it be better if we traded our Lincoln Navigators for hybrid cars?” she asked. “Wouldn’t that be more patriotic than festooning it with flags? Why not do both: Cover your Prius with flags.”

Huffington started a political blog called Huffington Post, ran for California governor in 2003 and recently released the book “On Becoming Fearless … In Love, Work, and Life.”

In her 45-minute speech, Huffington said one step toward environmental change is to alter what the public wants. When she first bought a Prius, it looked like a “golf cart with a hood,” but the popularity of the environmentally friendly cars has made environmentalism more fashionable, she said.

“What do we need (sport utility vehicles) for, some kind of machismo?” Huffington said. “If so, we can change that. We can change the symbols.”

Huffington also suggested that the media must change how it covers issues such as the environment and politics. The media implies that both sides of the debate on certain issues have equal merit, which is not always the case, she said.

“These two positions are presented as if they’re equally valid and truth is somewhere in the middle,” she said. “When it comes to global warming and these other important issues, the truth is not in the middle.”

Environmental and political coverage should take precedence over sensational news.

A former Republican, Huffington said she “converted” about 10 years ago when she realized the private sector cannot be relied on to protect the people. Politicians and activists are often criticized for changing their beliefs, but they should be willing to do so more often, she said.

“No one ignores evidence better than the president,” she said. “That’s not leadership, that’s stubbornness of the kind that’s extremely dangerous in a commander-in-chief.”

If politicians will not step up to encourage environmentalism or end the war in Iraq, citizens will have to do so, Huffington said.

“We need to stop looking for someone on a white horse to save us,” she said. “We need to look in the mirror and see the heroes there.”

SEED co-President Rachel Patten said she was “pleased with the issues she brought up.”

“We’re interested in bringing these issues to the forefront so that people will talk about them,” the SESP senior said.

But some audience members said they were disappointed with the speech. Devin Balkind, a Communication senior, said he was dissatisfied by her statements on the environment.

“She falls into the trap of saying that being good to our environment is to stop driving SUVs,” he said. “It’s about not eating meat, not driving so much, not living in these huge houses. She doesn’t capture that it’s a cultural shift we have to make.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]