"From its founding in 1914, The New Republic has been the flagship and forum of American liberalism. Its reporting and commentary on politics, society, and arts and letters have nurtured a broad liberal spirit in our national life," the statement continues. "The magazine’s present owner and managers claim they are giving it new relevance while remaining true to its century-old mission. Instead, they seem determined to strip it of the intellectual, literary, and political commitments that have been its essence and meaning. Their pronouncements suggest that they hold those commitments in contempt."That comes in the wake of several senior staff members resigning.
The letter comes one day after a shakeup that saw the resignation of top editor Franklin Foer and veteran literary editor Leon Wieseltier, both of whom resigned due to differences of vision with Hughes, a 31-year-old Facebook co-founder who bought the magazine in 2012. On Friday morning, more than two dozen of the magazine's senior and contributing editors quit the magazine en masse in protest.It is a business, but a business that loses sight of its core market, or antagonizes its key employees, is headed for failure. The statement of the former editors manages to be hubristic and at the same time to invoke the magazine's founder, Herbert Croly.
Hughes now plans to move the magazine to New York and rebrand it as a "digital media company," a move that caused widespread outrage and confusion among the Washington-New York media establishment and the magazine's loyal readership.
"The New Republic cannot be merely a 'brand.' It has never been and cannot be a 'media company' that markets 'content,'" the former editors and staffers wrote in their statement. "Its essays, criticism, reportage, and poetry are not “product.” It is not, or not primarily, a business. It is a voice, even a cause. It has lasted through numerous transformations of the 'media landscape'—transformations that, far from rendering its work obsolete, have made that work ever more valuable."
"The New Republic is a kind of public trust," they continued. "That is something all its previous owners and publishers understood and respected. The legacy has now been trashed, the trust violated. It is a sad irony that at this perilous moment, with a reactionary variant of conservatism in the ascendancy, liberalism’s central journal should be scuttled with flagrant and frivolous abandon. The promise of American life has been dealt a lamentable blow."Or perhaps Government by Wise Experts is on the way to the ash heap of history. But Wise Experts combined with Tech Faddists find the fastest road to the dump. Ron Radosh, who disagrees with much that the magazine publishes, nevertheless finds reason to mourn.
As for the new owner Chris Hughes, Peretz accurately noted that the man was no intellectual: “Mr. Hughes,” he wrote, “is not from the world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann, the old-school liberals who founded the ‘journal of opinion’ in the hope that it would foment in its readers ‘little insurrections of the mind.’” Then he added the final insult: “The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.”The idea of an opinion cafe might not be as crazy as it seems, places for like-minded people to gather and to agree with each other have some value. On the other hand, in a world where anyone with an internet connection can play at public intellectual, is there any reason for The New Republic, or any other gate-keeper?
It’s worse than that. Hughes recently told reporters that he considered TNR to be not a magazine, but a “vertically integrated digital media company,” perhaps something along the lines of Politico or Buzzfeed. As owner and publisher, he has a right to do what he wants with his money. But he has quickly abandoned the promises he made when he bought TNR, to make the magazine relevant and to continue true to its intellectual traditions.
The current crop of departing editors should not have been surprised at this turn of events. The new course was clear from the very first day Hughes took it over. I recall him announcing that he was going to set up nationwide TNR coffee shops, starting in the major East and West Coast cities, where people could drink coffee and eat pastries and get TNRmugs, shirts, as well as the magazine itself. That crazy idea never came to fruition. But it was a harbinger of things to come.
Once an intellectual force of old-style liberalism that ran challenging articles policymakers, politicians, and the press had to contend with, it has now disappeared forever. Already, in its place, have been fluff pieces like a recent cover story about Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek. Perhaps a magazine similar to the old TNR will be funded by an intelligent multi-millionaire who will buy it and give its old editors a perch from which to resume their work. Or perhaps they will be hireden masse by another existing magazine, which will switch its format to one similar to the old journal of opinion. There are plenty of floundering outlets whose editors are brainstorming how to keep their print magazine in existence in a new digital era.
Without such a development, it is time to give TNR a final good-bye. TNR, which once had among its editors and writers people like Charles Krauthammer, Mort Kondracke, Fred Barnes, Jamie Kirchick, Chuck Lane, and other serious and probing journalists, is gone forever. We have Chris Hughes to thank for its end.