History Repeats Itself at The New Republic

The latest shift at a magazine that has changed course many times before


Here we go again.
The New Republic

A liberal magazine, once influential but lately in decline, is purchased by a wealthy outsider. The new owner promises continuity but turns out to have ideas of his own, and after a brief transitional period he starts to impose his will more forcefully. After a staff walkout, the venerable institution is left in the hands of an inexperienced new crew that doesn't seem to have much respect for the magazine's heritage.

That may sound like what's going on at The New Republic right now. But it's also what happened at The New Republic four decades ago, after Martin Peretz purchased the magazine from Gilbert Harrison. Here's how The American Prospect described the transition in a 2007 article:

By the late 1960s, TNR had long since lost its cachet as the voice of re-invigorated liberalism—a cachet that was perhaps best illustrated when the dashing, young President Kennedy had been photographed boarding Air Force One holding a copy. When he sold the magazine to Peretz, Harrison believed he had secured Peretz's promise to let him continue to run the magazine for three years. This plan quickly foundered, however, when Peretz got tired of reading rejection notices for articles he hoped to publish in the magazine at the same time he was covering its losses. Soon Harrison's Queen Anne desk and his John Marin paintings were moved out of the editor's office. 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.

Sounds pretty familiar, down to the outlet's bygone status as the in-fight magazine on Air Force One.

People upset about the current changes at TNR keep invoking the publication's 100-year history, implying that we're watching the death of the "real" New Republic. But if you actually look at that history, you'll see that the institution has changed course many times before, sometimes drastically. This is a magazine that went from publishing apologias for Stalin to publishing apologias for the Nicaraguan contras, with yet more incarnations in between. Sometimes it sets the trends in technocratic liberalism, and sometimes it merely follows them. Right now it's getting a bracing dose of the latest flavor of center-left thinking, the kind most at home in Silicon Valley. (Though Chris Hughes, the Facebook plute who now owns TNR, still passed through the magazine's traditional training ground of Harvard before he made his millions in cyberspace.)

Look: I don't fault The New Republic's staffers and contributors for protesting what's happening at their magazine. Hughes reportedly treated outgoing editor Franklin Foer very poorly, and the new CEO's comments about what he wants to do with the outlet are not exactly inspiring. (They sound, in Daniel Drezner's words, "like someone went to a TED talk in Palo Alto and mined every business cliche possible.") But what we're watching is in no way a radical break with The New Republic's history. It may even be what a longtime TNR-watcher ought to expect.

(Bonus link: The one article I ever wrote for TNR.)

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  1. OT: Losing their brains? Or were some of the brains retained?

    "The case of the University of Texas at Austin's missing brains has apparently been solved.

    "On Wednesday afternoon, after a day of much confusion, the university issued a statement that most of the 100 brains, preserved in formaldehyde in jars, that had disappeared from the basement of the Animal Resources Center had been disposed of by the university's environmental health and safety officials in 2002, under protocols for biological waste....

    "Not everyone is convinced that the university's explanation accounts for all the missing gray matter. But if accurate, the statement resolves the status of a most unlikely collection of missing items ? the brains taken from mental patients in autopsies as far back as the 1950s. They were kept in heavy glass jars, each with an identification label, a diagnosis and the date of death, according to Alex Hannaford, co-author of a new book, "Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital," with Adam Voorhes, who photographed the brain collection....

    "Mr. Hannaford said he was skeptical of the university's conclusion that the 100 brains had all been disposed of.

    ""I don't buy it," he said. "These jars were designed to hold one brain, and I find it hard to believe that if 40 jars were disposed of, that accounted for all the brains.""

    1. Hmmm...I wonder if Mr. Hannaford can account for his movement at the time the brains disappeared?

      NOTE TO HANNAFORD'S LAWYERS: This is strictly a joke, ha ha.

    2. U T has brains? That's news.

  2. before he made his billions in cyberspace.

    FWIW, Wikipedia places his net worth at $850 million.

    1. You're right; that should say millions. Fixed.

      1. Noooo, just list his net work in Yen!

  3. Meet the new boss,
    Same as the old boss...

  4. "his is a magazine that went from publishing apologias for Stalin to publishing apologias for the Nicaraguan contras, with yet more incarnations in between"

    Well.... at least they were never holocaust deniers!

  5. in related, "Highbrow Journalism"-news

    White Men Upset Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine

    I assume the 'white man' they mean is the dude with the poor-man's-Einstein hairdo

    Also = the way this term 'white man' is used... i would almost think there's something *derogatory* implied? Is it me? its probably me.

    1. This seems apropos:

      1. Ughh. Trying again:

    2. White Men Upset Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine

      I love when progressives claim 'white men' are upset, even though the white men who are upset are all like minded progs like them.

      I seriously doubt the average Republican or libertarian particularly cares.

      Incidentally, I was unaware Julia Ioffe, who quit over the announcement, was a white man. I'm sure it would be news to her.

  6. Oh, who gives an F besides a bunch of like-minded mandarins or wanna be mandarins?


    1. I'm tyring to come up with a way to express the surreal nature of trying to come up with a snarky response to that on the evning after having taken a civil service exam.

      And for the record, I don't give a fuck what happens to 'The New Republic'. Most of the time I don't even remember the rag exists.

      1. Was it at Lower E. Side Prep on Stanton St.?

        1. No... I've never even heard of Stanton St, or that school.

  7. Reminds me of the almost periodic convulsions at WBAI & to a lesser extent Pacifica generally. But Jesse knows about that too. It's just that the self-righteousness of all sides is amusing.

  8. (They sound, in Daniel Drezner's words, "like someone went to a TED talk in Palo Alto and mined every business cliche possible.")

    Hello, co-founder of Facebook. He didn't GO to the TED Talk, he's probably the inspiration for the TED talks.

    I'm not defending the middle-management douchebag-jargon-doublespeak, but at least Hughes can claim he was "there", maaan.

    1. He didn't mean Hughes; he meant the CEO that Hughes hired. Guy Vidra.

  9. Jesse 1997:
    "for bohemians to experiment with the medium, and for radical political views -- left, right, and non-Euclidean -- to be heard."

    That's what I need, a "Non-Euclidean political views" bumper sticker. Nice sound to that.

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