The regime change at the New Republic is continuing to command headlines. The story is shifting, from the principled stance of the two dozen staffers, many of them excellent journalists, who jumped from the windows after owner Chris Hughes fired top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, to two storylines that are more sympathetic to Hughes. One is technocratic/neoliberal: He bought the goddamn magazine, what did they expect? The other is political: despite the New Republic’s claim to being a progressive leader, the old regime was not liberal; it was racist and neoconservative/rightwing Zionist. Though typically not many critics are explicitly tackling the New Republic’s arch-Zionism.
The New York Times business page characterizes the shift as a battle between old and new media.
As The New Republic’s losses mounted, reaching $5 million a year according to one person with knowledge of its books, Mr. Hughes grew impatient….
Mr. Hughes began setting aggressive targets for web traffic, and calling for more “snackable content.” He told employees not to use the popular abbreviation “TNR” to refer to the magazine, explaining that “The New Republic” was a more recognizable brand.
In that piece, former editor Mike Kinsley defends Hughes’s autonomy.
“We live in a capitalistic society, and that’s something that The New Republic has historically stood for,” he went on. “It’s his magazine, and if he wants to wreck it, he can.”
In the Washington Post, Chris Hughes says he didn’t want to own a white elephant, but make the magazine a sustainable brand.
I came to protect the future of the New Republic by creating a sustainable business so that our journalism, values and voice — the things that make us singular — could survive.
…the dichotomy between techy buzzwords and tradition is a false choice. Journalists across the industry are using new techniques to tell vital stories and make passionate arguments. Innovation is happening in traditional newsrooms like the New York Times and The Post and at start-ups such as Vox and Politico. The New Republic should and will be mentioned in the same breath.
Remember that Marty Peretz made the New Republic over 40 years ago and also did a purge. He wanted the magazine to anchor the pro-Israel argument inside the Democratic Party. “Much of the staff, which then included Walter Pincus, Stanley Karnow, and Doris Grumbach, was either fired or chose to resign. The staffers were largely replaced by young men fresh out of Harvard, with plenty of talent but few journalistic credentials and little sense of the magazine’s place in the history of liberalism,” states one report. And a conservative site points out that the magazine was remade before that, in 1941.
(A lot of the huffing and puffing reminds me of when Si Newhouse bought the New Yorker and replaced William Shawn with Robert Gottlieb back in 1987. The editors of the magazine were then counting on Charles McGrath to take Shawn’s seat, and a good number quit, saying a great tradition was being deep-sixed. It was pointed out then that a magazine is not a democracy. No one remembers this anymore, for good reason.)
On to the more important storyline. Ta-Nehisi Coates once cited the magazine for publishing the most racist article he’d ever read. Donald Johnson has this weather report:
The majority of liberal/left types that I’ve seen are unsympathetic to The New Republic and some people (including me) are dancing on its grave, while recognizing that some good people (like John Judis) worked there. There was a TNR cover in favor of welfare “reform” (back in the 90’s) that was really shocking. I don’t remember it, but it was amazing in a bad way--a black woman smoking while holding a baby. You’ve probably seen it if you’ve clicked around. I’m about to go to bed or I’d look it up and link to it.
Jeet Heer has done a series of Tweets on Marty Peretz’s racist history.
Jacob Heilbrunn has published the best piece on the matter, “The Myth of the Liberal New Republic,” that focuses on the neoconservative foreign policy.
[Peretz and Leon Wieseltier] viewed any kind of hesitation about force as tantamount to a cold and heartless foreign policy. They saw themselves as always on the side of the angels and promoted a kind of group-think at the magazine that I believe explains its disastrous endorsement of the Iraq War and that cost it many of its readers.
As I recall it, once I joined the magazine and began writing opinion and reported pieces, it seemed as though there was never a stand that was hard-line enough to satisfy Peretz and Wieseltier. The weekly Thursday meetings, where Marty and Leon egged each other in their mutual hawkishness (not that it took all that much egging), started to feel oppressive.
The adherence was significant: The neoconservative groupthink of the publication set the tune for the liberal D.C. discourse:
Having been practically weaned on the New Republic’s bellicosity, I myself developed a fairly hawkish disposition and published a number of pieces attacking the Clinton administration for insufficient zealousness abroad. But I always viewed the neoconservatives with some skepticism, and by 1999 my antipathy toward the idea of ballistic missile defense probably helped to ensure that I fell into a state of ungrace. It was no accident that I was replaced by my talented friend Lawrence F. Kaplan, who was then a staunch neoconservative and co-author of a book with Weekly Standard editor William Kristol that demanded a new war against Iraq. At the time, my one word of advice to him was that you could never be too far right for them.
Which is why I confess to rubbing my eyes in disbelief at some of the sentimental piffle being circulated about the magazine’s latest round of upheaval.
All roads lead to Israel in the New Republic’s worldview. Heilbrunn notes that Israel was “the neuralgic tender spot of the magazine” and that Leon Wieseltier “would, more often than not, devote himself to playing what might be called the anti-anti Israel card.” Wieseltier grew up a Revisionist Zionist, and he carried on with the militant Israel stuff after Marty Peretz left the building in disgrace in 2009:
He has constantly striven to package a crusading and militant moralism as synonymous with liberalism and American national interests. The most recent example was his endorsement of Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan’s article “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire” as a revelatory essay, even though Andrew J. Bacevich, writing in Commonweal, correctly called it “slickly mendacious” for remaining silent about the Iraq War and acting as though American power can set everything that is wrong abroad aright.
John Cole sneers:
Providing a forum for the noxious Marty Peretz to slander at will anyone to the left of Avigdor Lieberman
I can’t think of one occasion that sticks out where it was a force for good.
Another good piece on the New Republic’s racism is by Max Fisher at Vox. He worked at the place and is now embarrassed that he didn’t speak out, even as the magazine was insulting black people left and right
The overwhelmingly white writers and editors who worked for Peretz knew his work was monstrous, and often struggled over the morality of accepting his money (as did I, during my brief internship there). But none ever resigned en masse as they did over the firing of two white male editors today. That fact is just a particularly egregious example of a much larger problem among the elite Beltway publications: a lack of diversity and a begrudging tolerance of racism that go hand-in-hand… [T]he fact that many of them found Peretz’s promulgation of racism to be tolerable, whereas Chris Hughes’ firing of two beloved colleagues was not, speaks to a larger problem of how we think about racism in American society and particularly in the elite media institutions that have badly lagged in employing people of color.
I personally heard and saw a number of today’s resigning editors deride and privately object to Peretz’s racism, sometimes quite forcefully. But, to my knowledge, not one of them, including senior editors who could find a new job with ease and contributing editors who drew no salary at all, thought it was as resignation-worthy when Peretz repeatedly wrote that Arabs have lower “standards of civilization,” that blacks have an inferior “culture,” that Latinos are lazy.
But let’s give credit where it’s due. Eric Alterman spoke out when Fisher was silent; he broke the New Republic story years ago, in 2007, at considerable expenditure of his own professional/personal capital. As James North reminds me, Alterman’s bold story, “My Marty Peretz Problem— And Yours,” at the American Prospect honed in on the degree to which Peretz’s rightwing Zionism contaminated the left:
[Turning] TNR into a kind of ideological police dog, Peretz enjoyed the ability — at least for a while — to play a key role in defining the borders of “responsible” liberal discourse, thereby tarring anyone who disagreed as irresponsible or untrustworthy. But he did so on the basis of a politics simultaneously so narrow and idiosyncratic — in thrall almost entirely to an Israel-centric neoconservatism — that it’s difficult to understand how the magazine’s politics might be considered liberal anymore…
My Marty problem — and ours — is just this: By pretending to speak as a liberal but simultaneously endorsing the central crusades of the right, he has enlisted The New Republic in the service of a ruinous neoconservative doctrine, as the magazine sneered at those liberals who stood firm in the face of its insults. He has done so, moreover, in support of a blinkered and narrow view of Israeli security that, again, celebrates hawks and demonizes doves. Had the United States or even Israel followed the policies advocated by those genuine liberals whom TNR routinely slandered, much of the horror of the past four years would have been happily avoided — as most of its editors (but not Peretz) now admit. At the same time, the hard work of coming up with a genuinely liberal alternative to the neoconservative foreign-policy nightmare, an alternative to which TNR might have usefully contributed, remains not merely undone but undermined in the pages of the magazine.
Zionism was a consistent element of the magazine up to the Hughes era. Donald Johnson googled the Gaza war and the New Republic and found articles like this–
Israel Must Defeat Hamas, But Also Must Do More to Limit Civilian Deaths
The moral calculus of a messy war.
Basic shooting and crying, Johnson reports, with some criticism of Netanyahu from a liberal Zionist perspective; on the Israel issue, it still stinks.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to imagine the magazine running John Judis’s great piece on Truman and the Israel lobby under Peretz/Wieseltier. That ran last January. Wieseltier promptly smeared Judis for calling out the lobby.
And at the risk of repeating myself, that is the political-cultural significance of the Hughes putsch. It is epochal: it ends an era in which neoconservatism was fanned inside the liberal Democratic political community, out of concern for maintaining US support for the Jewish state. We’re in the midst of a transformation in the US discourse. Some day Max Fisher will write about how he sat there and said not a word when liberal Beltway types who knew no Arabs talked about the necessity of launching indiscriminate strikes on Palestinian neighborhoods.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.