Late yesterday, the owner and publisher of TNR, Facebook magnate Chris Hughes, ended the publication as we know it.
Just weeks after their gala 100th birthday bash held in Washington, D.C., at a cost of over $150,000 — attended by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, chaired by Bill Clinton, and with a performance by Wynton Marsalis — Hughes immediately announced an extensive executive change that spelled the magazine’s quick demise.
He fired the prominent literary editor Leon Wieseltier and the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Frank Foer. You can read the details in today’s New York Times, as well as in articles by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine, Dylan Byers in Politico, and in Lloyd Grove’s revealing column at The Daily Beast. The one place you will not read anything about it is on TNR’s website.
To replace the old guard, who had some continuity with the magazine’s traditions and who had managed to sneak into its increasingly vacuous stories some serious content (such as Robert Kagan’s cover story on the importance of exercising American power in the world), Hughes brought in new management. He announced that the new CEO will be Guy Vidra, who previously worked at Yahoo, and he appointed as editor-in-chief Gabriel Snyder, who was an editor at The Atlantic Wire. Then, he announced that he was cutting TNR’s bi-weekly publication schedule in half, making its print magazine a monthly, and was moving its offices to New York.
When Hughes bought the publication, as the Times story notes, he said he was motivated to purchase it because he had a great interest in “the future of high quality long-form journalism.”
I knew at the time that the result of his takeover would be the magazine’s demise. In a PJ Media column, I wrote: “I am not too optimistic about its future.” At that time, Richard Just was running it; he had just met with Hughes and convinced him to purchase TNR, hoping that he would save the magazine. Shortly thereafter, Hughes fired Just and convinced TNR’s old editor Frank Foer to return as editor-in-chief.
I believed that TNR would become a shill for the Obama administration. This was made clear quite soon. I also believed that the magazine would never publish serious articles that critiqued the ideology and politics of liberalism itself:
So, I am not optimistic about the fate of the new TNR. The last thing we need is a magazine slightly — very slightly — to the right of The Nation. … this is a swan song and sad goodbye to the old TNR. I wish the magazine well, and perhaps I will turn out to be very wrong. But as a natural pessimist, and for good reason, I only expect the worst.
Now, the worst has come to pass. As the Washington Post reported, and was tweeted earlier by Michael Calderone: “More than a dozen senior editors and a longer list of contributing editors quit on Friday following the resignation of editor Franklin Foer and literary editor, Leon Wieseltier.”
The list included its most prominent and serious writers, including its long-time legal affairs editor Jeffrey Rosen; contributing editors Anne Applebaum and Paul Berman; historians Sean Wilentz and Robert Kagan; and senior editors Noam Scheiber, Judith Shulevitz, and Jason Zengerle, among others. The list includes almost every single writer or editor who made TNR what it was.
Why should we care? Despite my own disagreements with TNR’s old-style liberalism, in its heyday — under the editorship of Marty Peretz (whom the editors who stayed on wrote out of the magazine’s history and completely ignored) — TNR had moved back to the fierce Cold War liberalism that became its mainstay. It was anti-Communist, tough on foreign policy, and pro-Israel. It also featured major intellectual articles of a serious nature, often probing ones that cut against the grain. Even under Hughes, some of those working at TNR tried to hold true to its old stance.