January 28, 2013

CRITICISM FOR THE NEW REPUBLIC’S NEW OPERATIONAL STYLE: Dan Kennedy: TNR’s new owner crosses a line with Obama interview.

The New York Times goes deep on The New Republic’s latest reinvention. I wrote a couple of pieces for the venerable magazine many years ago, and I wish it well. But I also wish Times reporter Christine Haughney had explored a conflict of interest in TNR’s relaunch: the participation of new owner Chris Hughes in a major interview with President Obama.

I don’t necessarily begrudge Hughes’ wanting to play a role on the editorial side of TNR. It’s now his magazine, and previous owner Marty Peretz was a legendary interferer — sometimes for better, usually for worse. TNR is a small place, and it’s unrealistic to expect the publisher to exercise the same sort of restraint as, say, the publisher of a major daily newspaper.

But Hughes, the 29-year-old co-founder of Facebook, is also the “former online campaign adviser” to the president, as Haughney puts it — and by all accounts the key person in building Obama’s 2008 online presence. In April 2009, Fast Company ran a long profile headlined “How Chris Hughes Helped Launch Facebook and the Barack Obama Campaign.”

The TNR interview with Obama was conducted jointly by Hughes and the magazine’s editor, Franklin Foer. So what kind of hard-hitting questions did Hughes ask? Here they are.

And what follows is almost a Steve Kroft-level journalistic tonguebath. Note that, as the journalist who sent me this link observes, Dan Kennedy is hardly a right-wing media critic.

UPDATE: Skepticism:

I must say, I’d never paid any attention to Chris Hughes before, and I didn’t yesterday until pushed by my commenters. On the evidence of the interview he and Franklin Foer did with the President, I saw him as another media suckup doing Democratic Party politics under cover of journalism. Seeing this “free of party ideology or partisan bias” business now only inclines me to scoff. If that’s what you wanted as your brand, why did you lead off with that interview? . . .

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.

If that’s wrong, the burden is on Hughes and TNR to demonstrate that it’s wrong.