Like Charles Foster Kane buying the fictitious New York Inquirer and publishing his “Declaration of Principles,” Chris Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook who’s now the new owner of The New Republic (which has also had issues with being fictitious itself from time to time), declares that, under his watch, TNR “will strive to be free of party ideology or partisan bias”:
With this issue, we relaunch The New Republic. Our goals may be somewhat different from those of the magazine’s founding fathers, but we share their unabashed idealism. We believe that our new hyper-information age is thrilling, but not entirely satisfying. We believe that there must remain space for journalism that takes time to produce and demands a longer attention span-writing that is at once nourishing and entertaining. We aim to tell the most important, timely stories about politics, culture, and big ideas that matter to you.
The journalism in these pages will strive to be free of party ideology or partisan bias, although it will showcase passionate writing and will continue to wrestle with the primary questions about our society. Our purpose is not simply to tell interesting stories, but to always ask why these stories matter and tie their reporting back to our readers. We hope to discern the hidden patterns, to connect the disparate facts, and to find the deeper meaning, a layer of understanding beyond the daily headlines.
Wait — huh?
As Jonah Goldberg writes at NRO, “The new New Republic claims it will be free of party ideology or partisan bias. I honestly don’t know exactly what Hughes means by this, but it strikes me as a very bad start”:
There’s nothing to be ashamed of in being an opinion magazine. Good opinion journalism, I’ve long argued, is superior to most “objective” journalism, precisely because it makes an honest argument. An author of a long essay in National Review or The New Republic says “I believe in X. Here are my reasons why I support X. And here are the best arguments for those who say X is wrong and support Y instead.” Everything is out in the open, as in a court of law. Indeed, in a courtroom the prosecution is “biased” toward conviction, the defense towards acquittal. But both sides understand that they must address the opposing side’s best arguments or they will lose. And both sides understand they cannot take liberties with the facts. Supposedly objective journalism is very often far less honest about such things.
The new New Republic claims it will be free of party ideology or partisan bias. I honestly don’t know exactly what Hughes means by this, but it strikes me as a very bad start. A New Republic that is liberalism-free has no reason to exist (much as a National Review that is conservatism-free is pointless). A liberal New Republic that pretends it’s free of liberalism while it attempts to advance liberalism is a huge step backwards. After all, why should the reader trust a bunch of committed liberal opinion journalists if they can’t even be honest about what they are or what they are trying to do?
Exactly. TNR is a magazine for liberals (or “progressives,” or whatever the left wants to call itself these days), just as National Review and the Weekly Standard are magazines for conservatives, and Reason is a magazine for libertarians. If you’re buying those magazines, you’re not looking for a publication that’s striving “to be free of party ideology or partisan bias” — you want bias — and plenty of raw meat (or perhaps raw tofu in the case of TNR’s readers).
Ann Althouse, who presumably fits the demographic of TNR’s center-left target audience, is skeptical of Hughes’ new approach:
Here‘s a HuffPo article from last March about Hughes’s purchase of TNR, noting that he was “a key player in President Obama’s online organizing efforts in 2008.” Why would we expect this man — who’s only 29, by the way — to strive to be free of party ideology or partisan bias? I’ve got to assume the striving is toward seeming to be free of party ideology and partisan bias, because that’s what journalists always say they are doing when they have ideological and partisan goals.
Based on that interview with Obama, I’d say Hughes is not striving that hard or he’s not good at what he’s striving to do or — most likely — he only wants to appeal to Democrats, so he only wants to do enough to seem to be free of party ideology and partisan bias to Democrats. Is this enough to make our target audience feel good about the nourishment they’re getting from this source? The good feeling is some combination of seeming like professional journalism while satisfying their emotional needs that are intertwined their political ideology and love of party.
Back in 2009, after Newsweek decided to leave the weekly news business and transform itself into a version of the New Republic that you could browse in the checkout line at Safeway, Andrew Ferguson famously asked in the Weekly Standard, “Are there really 1.5 million magazine readers — the number of subscribers Jon has promised advertisers — who want a liberal opinion magazine written by liberals who don’t want to admit they’re liberals? Last week everybody looked at one another and pondered a world without Newsweek.”
The New Republic’s subscriber base is much smaller than Newsweek’s before the lights went out (the New York Times claimed yesterday that TNR had 44,177 subscribers, with an additional 1,700 or so of newsstand sales for each issue). But do TNR readers also want to pretend that they’re reading a magazine that’s “free of party ideology or partisan bias”?
Perhaps they do: conservatives and libertarians are almost invariably happy to openly describe themselves as conservatives and libertarians; the left wants to believe that from the top down, they’re completely free of ideology and partisanship. They’re simply “pragmatic,” as Jonah notes, favoring FDR-inspired “bold experimentation” — all the while building a philosophy in which no portion of life is untrammeled by politics (because the personal is political is personal is political, ad infinitum). Liberal newspaper and broadcast journalists have played this game for 80 years or so — and continue to do so; they think the “I have no idea what my/what my colleague’s ideology is” claim is a selling point.
Evidently it is, as far as many liberal readers are concerned.
Update 1/29/13 11:53 AM PST): Given that the new New Republic is now promising to be “free of party ideology or partisan bias,” presumably, it recently installed a much more finely-honed office-wide BS detector than it was using in the past, right?
No, of course not: “Oops! The New Republic tweets parody site ‘proof’ of Obama shooting skeet, quickly deletes.” (Two guesses as to which of his favorite pastimes Obama was engaged in, when he was photoshopped holding a shotgun.)
As Ace writes, “TNR’s goof here (apparently duplicated by the brain trust at Buzzfeed) is superficially laughable — until you realize the mindset that produced it (and will continue to produce the same error until the end of time itself) is no laughing matter at all.”
Read the whole thing.