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Lynn Scarlett: At the advent of the Reagan era, there was an interest in deregulation, or at least revised regulation, so we were contacted by various administration officials for input as they tried to develop policy agendas. We had a lot of energy as a consequence. One felt we were not doing a white paper to go on a shelf but that someone was ready and waiting in a policy making context who might take the ideas and run with them.
Virginia Postrel, who started as an assistant editor in late 1986, was editor from October 1989 to March 2000.
Virginia Postrel: I had read [Norman Podhoretz’s memoir] Making It, and unlike everyone else I thought, wow, this is really what I want to do when I grow up. I really would love to edit one of these magazines. That would be the best job. I didn’t want to edit Commentary; I wanted it to be my point of view.
Zupan: I think the circulation was in the high 30 thousands when I left, and we had been on newsstands for several years. We were paying writers—not a lot, but we were. Our first forays into investigative journalism were lots of fun and a big boost for the magazine. That kind of happened by accident. Our first big thing was on Cesar Chavez’s union and how they were getting federal grants for certain things which were prohibited under federal law for unions to do. [Reporter Patty Newman] uncovered this; we did huge fact checking and published the story and got one of our first major contributions as a result of that. Dick Larry from the Scaife Foundation said he wanted to come out and visit because he was so impressed by this article. We had lunch, and he said, “How’d you like a contribution of $40,000?” Nobody was coming around even giving $5,000, let alone $40,000. We about slid off our chairs, we were so surprised. And this [money] was explicitly to carry on this sort of investigative journalism.
In ’81 we did a big Love Canal story. What [reporter Eric Zeuss] first thought it was, was business in bed with big government in a nice cozy deal, but it turned out [the chemical company] Hooker [who had polluted the land there] had tried its mightiest to keep people from building on this land but government said we’re going to run roughshod over it and take it by eminent domain anyway. I personally fact checked every single fact in that story. It got lots of attention.
Postrel: When the Love Canal issue in February ’81 [came out], Steve [Postrel, her husband] was drawn to that, read the article and started reading reason because of that. We not only liked that article; reason was one of those kinds of [political magazines we liked] but with our point of view. Then my ambition became: It would be great to be editor of reason.
Laura Main (now Laura Main Collins) was art director from 1984 to 1988.
Laura Main Collins: I interviewed with Marty. She said, “Even though you have no experience, this is the first time we’ve met a libertarian artist, and that seems very unusual.”
Bill Kauffman was an assistant editor from 1985 to 1988.
Bill Kauffman: I had been a legislative assistant to [New York] Sen. Patrick Moynihan, which was an anarchist-making experience, and I was not cut out for grad school. I had not been a longtime reader. I had no libertarian background at all, but I liked to read journals of opinion, saw an ad, appliedand came out and was interviewed and hired. The magazine was very much a Randian/Goldwaterite matrix, and my own political involvement had been liberal Democrat. By ’85 I was generally in the anti-Federalist/LocoFoco/large-P populist/Old Right/New Left tradition with a regional accent.
But I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I am eternally grateful to Bob and Marty for giving me a chance. All journals of opinion have a general orientation, and the worst of the lot have a party line, often enforced with Stalinist ruthlessness. That was not the case at reason. When I was there the rest of the editorial staff was me, Eric Marti, Lucy Braun, and Laura Main the art director. None of us were Rand fans or Goldwaterites, and it was just such a congenial and convivial group. We had a great time after work every day. We’d walk down the street to this great dark bar, Eddie Van Cleve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, and talk and drink and laugh the night away.
Collins: We’d go to Lynn’s house, go to Marty’s house and play Boggle. Bob was so young and so energetic. I didn’t realize how lucky I was working with such really smart people. Later on I worked in corporate offices where people aren’t that smart, frankly, so it was really a wonderful time. The people I worked with at reason were like family. Every time I saw Bob, I thought, “Such a good guy.” He always reminded me of Abraham Lincoln.
Zupan: Ron Bailey [currently reason’s science correspondent] was selling ads at The New Yorker and approached us and asked if we would like a review of a new book by Jeremy Rifkin. I remembered Rifkin had been in the People’s Bicentennial Commission to mobilize Americans against corporate America under the guise of a bicentennial celebration, so I had followed Rifkin’s intellectual and activist career and was interested in having someone trace it. So I suggested to Ron that this is what we really wanted. He said, “I have no experience as a journalist.” I said, “OK, we’ll work with you.” He ended up with a pretty good story on Rifkin, and from there Ron went on to work for Forbes as a reporter. Ron, whenever I see him, says, “There’s Marty; she started my career.”
Kauffman: Lynn [Scarlett] and I went up to Berkeley to interview Eldridge Cleaver. He had a big American flag flying from his apartment, and we must have been there four hours. He got up to take a piss and we’re next to his files, so why not look? Two I remember: one called “sperm” and one was “Jim Morrison: alive?” or something like that. I’ll always regret my scruples prevented me from delving into that file.