As Jonathan Last writes, “The Atlantic Becomes a Laughingstock:”
Believe me, I’m more relieved about that than you are. A friend sends along an email with this link and the subject header “Why David Bradley Doesn’t Care.” I’ll spare you the click: It’s Sullivan informing readers that his site has gotten 2 million views over the last two days.
So perhaps I should make a little more explicit why I’ve been so worked up about this whole thing.
I have no particular aversion to the smearing of political figures; or rather, no aversion greater than that of the average reasonable person. I find it ugly and distasteful, but I realize that it’s part of the rough and tumble of politics. It has always happened. It will continue to happen. That’s why you’ll note that I haven’t written a single word about what sites such as Daily Kos, Democrats.com, or Democratic Underground have said about her.
And I hold no particular brief for Sarah Palin, per se. As I’ve written elsewhere, there are reasonable criticisms of her both as a governor and as a vice presidential candidate. I don’t think anything I’ve written about her would count as boosterism. (Although I do make the case that she was the best strategic pick available to McCain, as an analytical matter.)
What’s caught my attention here, then is The Atlantic. I am, and always have been, an enormous booster for the Old Media, and smarty-pants general-interest magazines in particular. What’s so notable in this whole affair isn’t the tarring of Palin but the fact that The Atlantic Monthly is the vehicle for the irresponsible spreading of smears about Palin and speculation so inane that it can’t be counted, by any reasonable measure, as analysis. (Here, I’m thinking of Sullivan’s claim that he thought it possible both Palin and McCain would relinquish their nominations.)
If Andrew Sullivan were to have written everything he wrote this week at his own website, I wouldn’t have said a word about it. The real scandal here isn’t Sullivan: It’s what The Atlantic has become by publishing him.
As for Sullivan’s page views, I sincerely hope that David Bradley isn’t making his editorial decisions based solely on eyeballs and dollars. Were that so, you could simply give The Atlantic’s pages over to Perez Hilton or Slashdot or Matt Drudge or any other number of content formats. But the point of The Atlantic, like other great journals, is to be something different–to be a stage in the world of ideas, even if it’s not the most profitable thing.
I find the prospect of The Atlantic devolving into some version of Free Republic or Daily Kos to be immensely worrisome. Hopefully David Bradley will do something to put his house in order. Soon.
For some background on how such a fine publication arrived at this particular moment, allow me to reprint a post from last year titled, “The Atlantic Hits An Iceberg.”
Back in 2004, I linked to Jonah Goldberg in a post titled “The Atlantic Creeps Leftward:”
The Atlantic is still a great magazine, but it seems to be inching urther and further into official Liberal Magazine Land. One can be a liberal magazine and still be a great magazine, The New Republic has proved that more than a few times. But what made the Kelly and post Kelly era Atlantic particularly special was its effort not to be predictably on one side of the political ledger.
As I added back then:
Goldberg writes the Atlantic’s current pieces, “contribute to the continued Slateification of the magazine, by which I mean that ‘post-partisan smart’ is defined as a certain kind of enlightened liberalism which enlightened liberals see as simply correct, not liberal”.
Hugh Hewitt writes that the era that the late Michael Kelly launched has officially concluded:
On my radio show moments ago I asked Mark Steyn about the current issue of The Atlantic which does not have one of Steyn’s wonderful obituaries. (A collection of these magnificent send-offs, Passing Parade, is here.) Mark revealed that he and The Atlantic have parted ways after a disagreement.
So, no need for me to purchase The Atlantic anymore. Steyn’s byline was for me the reason to always buy the magazine, especially when moving about the country through airports. Other interesting stuff was always there, but the purchase was automatic because Steyn’s obit was a must read. Now he’s not going to be in there, and I’m not going to be buying it.
The byline has become the brand as I have often argued over the past few years. Editors and publishers who haven’t figured this out yet are really living in the past, and The Atlantic has definitely enrolled itself in the club of the clueless in this regard.
As Hugh notes above, Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade is very much well worth your time. If America Alone is a darkly humorous preview of where the world might be headed, Passing Parade is a much lighter, wonderfully witty look back its most interesting movers and shakers, and I certainly hope that Steyn’s monthly obit series continues with some publication, whether it’s online or on dead tree.
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Back to 2008: While Sullivan’s perma-Drudge-link apparently ensures high Internet traffic, the Atlantic’s brand name certainly appears to be suffering through their association with him. In swapping out Mark Steyn, who wrote some of his most enjoyable and non-partisan material for the magazine, this is one trade that eventually may be looked back upon as being akin to the Red Sox offloading Babe Ruth to the Yankees.