40 Years of Free Minds and Free Markets

An oral history of reason

(Page 6 of 10)

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.

The 1980s

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.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Lefiti||

    But this marginal right-wing shit doesn't sell very well. Donate now!

  • Lefiti||

    My breath smells like cat food! Donate now!

  • Lefiti||

    I have not posted on this thread yet, you circle-jerkers!

  • Franklin Harris||

    Oliver: An example I recall of how reason was breaking into a more mainstream thing: I was watching Cinemax, one of those late-night films with Shannon Tweed. She played a psychiatrist. In a scene to demonstrate how brainy she was, she was carrying a couple of magazines, and the one on top was reason. That was the early '90s.

    "Indecent Behavior" (1993), I think. Or possibly one of the sequels.

  • ||

    40 years. Wow. And to think that in all that time you've achieved nothing. Time for plan B.

  • ||

    The Spreading Circle of Campus Terror

    Now THAT's what I'm talking about. Get an editor with some Rick James in him.

  • Leftitti||

    I'm a Unitard!

  • ||

    My breath smells like cat food! Donate now!

    Whoever is spoofing Lefiti, you aren't very good at it. Everyone knows Lefiti's breath smells like Sterno and Milk Bones.

  • TallDave||

    I like to think that fist is punching a socialist.

  • the innominate one||

    Everyone knows Lefiti's breath smells like Sterno and Milk Bones.

    no, no, no. Everyone knows lefiti's breath smells like santorum. I saw it written on the men's room wall, and that's confirmation enough for me.

  • the innominate one||

    hmmm, for some reason the server squirrels are inserting their own html into my hyperlink to www.spreadingsantorum.com

  • ||

    Ok, on a serious note.

    I enjoyed this article. As someone who discoved Reason when I went to college in the early 80s (and soon subscribed starting in the mid-80s), I'll been trying to build up a collection of them. Back in the 80s they used to sell back issues (either originals or xerox copies), but I was too poor to get them. I've been getting a few off ebay (including a dozen or so from the first 5 years or so).

    I really wish Reason would do something I've seen a few other mags have done: make available a CD or DVD of ALL their back issues scanned into PDF. If such was made available for a reasonable cost, I'd get it.

    (on a related note, I've been trying to get back issues of Inquiry, and recently put together a complete set of Liberty, thanks to their recent back issue blowout. I was also lucky to score off eBay the hardcopy of Liberatarian Forum in 2 volumes put out by the Ludwig von Mises Institue.)

  • NoStar||

    As a sometimes subscriber going back to the early to mid seventies, this article brought back many fond memories.

  • ||

    ... more people than ever recognize that top-down planning by force isn't the best way to run the world.

    If by that you mean, "people keep turning out in droves to vote for politicians who take away our freedom", then sure.

  • Not That Michael||

    I would be absolutely thrilled if reason brought back whatever designers were responsible for those incredible early covers from the mag's inception up until around '77. At least make the images in the website's cover archive able to be enlarged. Wow.

  • Andy||

    You guys did help in my conversion. Unfortunately, the comments threads tend to help my deconversion lol. Also, I have no power whatsoever. I shudder to think how many Democrats in my age group have been created from the combination of Bush's incompetence and Obama's charisma. You've got your work cut out for you.

    stay classy reason.

  • File under \"S\" for Subject-h||

    "able to be enlarged. Wow."

  • ||

    Libertarianism minus Ayn Rand equals kooky lightweights.

  • ||

    I have subscribed, on and off, to reason for most of its history. One of the best reasons to subscribe to the print edition now is so that you'll have something to read when you're forced to step away from the computer and go to the bathroom.

  • SIV||

    "Lefiti" at 12:21 FTW

    An excellent article but you should have included some thoughts from former intern Taranto

  • the innominate one||

    An excellent article but you should have included some thoughts from former intern Taranto

    AKA SIV?

  • leviramsey||

    Now I know where Howard Stern got his fist logo from...

  • Death to tyrants||

    End the fed!

  • nfl jerseys||


  • sevo||

    "I was excommunicated back in 1963 from the Rand thing."

    In Soviet Union, excommunication comes to you!
    L. Trotsky.


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