3 Top Lessons from the New Republic Implosion

Now that the pixel dust has (mostly) settled, we can begin trying to glean some lessons from the sudden crack up of The New Republic.

Since its inception 100 years ago, TNR has positioned itself as the journal of American liberalism, when that word was still synonymous with patriotism, freedom and even a hawkish foreign policy.

The magazine cheer-led for Stalin longer than was seemly and opposed the Vietnam War. However, it was also critical of the New Left’s excesses and, under contentious editor Martin Peretz, became largely pro-Israel.

It may have been “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One” during the Clinton administration but that didn’t prevent TNR from being highly critical of his (and Hillary’s) policies.

So it wouldn’t be entirely fair or accurate to describe The New Republic as a “liberal” magazine, although that’s what a lot of conservative commentators have been doing since this week’s Chernobyl-level meltdown.

In a magazine landscape in which The Nation is unmistakeably far-left, and National Review and the Weekly Standard are clearly “right wing,” The New Republic sometimes seemed… confused — a reflection of the particular passions of whoever happened to be editor at the time.

And many of those editors over the years have been quite young.

As have the magazine’s writers.

That’s why it’s likely that the prospect of having a 28-year-old owner didn’t immediately strike fear into the hearts of New Republic stakeholders.


3. “Our future looks bright” means you’re fired. 

That owner, Chris Hughesformer Mark Zuckerberg roommate turned multi-multi-millionaire — sounds like a complete and utter twit. (You really have to read the whole thing. Whoa…)

However, you don’t have to be that young (or undeservedly wealthy) to be the kind of owner/boss/CEO that Hughes personifies.

I’ve worked with a few of them. So have my friends.

When I sifted through the metric ton of TNR autopsy reports last week, I got flashbacks to places I used to work.

Kids, let me assure you:

If your boss ever throws an expensive party celebrating your firm’s founding, and repeatedly assures you (perhaps with tears in his eyes) that everything’s fine, you’re all doing great and nothing will ever, ever change, then start polishing your resume or whatever it is you young people today do.

(Hope that’ll serve as ample warning to everybody over at Vice…)

Because everything was fine, in the sense that editor Franklin “Foer got good results for Hughes: a succession of high-impact stories, and online readership that was on course to double to 6 million this year from 3 million in 2013.”

Foer was fired this week anyway.

And at that pricey magazine centenary bash? Hughes even mispronounced Foer’s last name.

Again: Bad. Sign.

So is announcing that you’re cutting the number of print issues (in this case, in half) to “save money” or something. That’s always a sign that a magazine is going out of business, not just “downsizing.”

After Hughes fired Foer and 30-year veteran literary editor Leon Wieseltier, more than half the TNR staff quit.

Smart kids.

2. The media’s favorite topic is… itself

That hasn’t been, well, news for a very long time, but the media’s scab-picking narcissism was on particularly vivid display this week, as the Awl so pointedly noticed.

I read dozens of elegies about The New Republic at MSM sites in 48 hours, and they were overwhelmingly ranked with the “most popular” and “most read” pieces when I was visiting.

The MSM spent far more energy and space mourning the demise of a magazine that approximately 44,000 people subscribe to (and, I suspect, fewer actually read) than they did on, say, the disintegration of Lena Dunham’s “Republican rapist” tale.

And they were very late to the party, as it were, when it came to tearing up the week’s other fake rape tale; only after Richard Bradley, and then Steve Sailer, took it apart did more “respectable” journalists figure it was safe to weigh in on the Rolling Stone “Jackie” fiasco.

By the way, it was also Sailer who discovered that the author of that story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had a connection to former “journalist” Stephen Glass, who infamously wrote dozens of completely fake articles for… The New Republic.

1. The media’s least favorite topic is… the unpleasant truth

As I said: while preparing to write this column, I read many, many, many “wither The New Republic?” type articles.

It was quite difficult to keep up with them all, frankly.

Every 20 minutes or so, another one popped up.

(They still are, albeit at a slower pace.)

Amazingly, not one of the ones I read early on — the most fevered and furious, that is — mentioned the one thing for which The New Republic is most famous for outside of its Beltway/elite readership:

The Stephen Glass scandal.

It wasn’t the only example of journalistic malpractice in TNR‘s history.

One of its editors was a KGB spy of the Burgess/Philby cohort, for instance. (“Only one?” you quip. Well, that we know of…)

Yet it was l’affaire du Glass captured the public’s imagination and spawned a big-name Hollywood movie.

That shameful, toxic scandal wasn’t enough, however, to destroy The New Republic.

In the end, another in-over-his-head young man — owner Chris Hughes — is shaping up as the culprit.

There’s probably a lesson — or three — in the story of the magazine’s demise.

By the time anyone is ready to hear it, will there be any magazines left to run it?

Will we be able to trust them?

And will — should — anyone outside the incestuous media bubble even care?