The New Republic: The Bad and the Good

Dec 15, 2014 by

Photo by JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)

As the aftermath of the staff departures at The New Republic continues, veteran journalist Robert Parry, who exposed the Iran Contra affair in the 1980s, remembers the magazine’s deadly tradition of cheerleading for empire, while Salon columnist Tom Frank admitsthat it published some “pretty damn good” writing shortly before it came apart at the hands of its new owner, Facebook zillionaire Chris Hughes.

“There has been much handwringing of late in Official Washington about an editorial shakeup at The New Republic and the possibility that the century-old political magazine’s legacy will somehow be tarnished by its new owner,” wrote Parry, who since 1995 has been editor of Consortium News, on Dec. 8. “But the truth about The New Republic is that it has more blood on its hands than almost any other publication around, which is saying something.”

“Though The New Republic still touts its reputation as ‘liberal,’ that label has been essentially a cover for its real agenda: pushing a hawkish foreign policy agenda that included the Reagan administration’s slaughter of Central Americans in the 1980s, violent U.S. interventions in Iraq, Syria and other Muslim countries for the past two decades, and Israel’s suppression of Palestinians forever.”

The magazine that gave us “the writings of neocons Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Steven Emerson, Robert Kagan and many more,” Parry continues, “has become a case study in the special evil that can come from intellectualism when it supplies high-minded rationalizations for low-brow brutality.

“In the world of the mind, where The New Republic likes to think it lives, the magazine has published countless essays that have spun excuses for mass murder, rape, torture and other real-world crimes. Put differently, the magazine afforded the polite people of Official Washington an acceptable way to compartmentalize and justify the ungodly bloodshed.”

In a particularly poetic column published at Salon on Sunday, journalist Thomas Frank confirmed that he found “nothing attractive about its journalistic model, in which smart kids from the Ivy League would exercise the prerogatives of their class, sliding into a position of ready-made authority in Washington, where they would pantomime seriousness and demand wars on this country and that. The bigoted writings of the magazine’s owner in the pre-Hughes era were always a shocking thing to find among its delicately reasoned essays, a big turd rising up through the eggnog. And the magazine’s political project back in the days everyone thinks of as TNR’s golden age—trolling the left—was exactly the wrong way to answer the free-market turn of the 1980s and 1990s.

“So part of me wants to say that The New Republic’s spectacular self-destruction last week represented a kind of cosmic justice. The magazine spent years cheering for the political arrangements that made possible the rise of the self-righteous do-nothing zillionaires who so afflict us today, and lo and behold, one of these moneyed buffoons comes blundering along and succeeds in blowing the magazine up. By insisting on the profit motive. Right after a big black-tie party presided over by Bill Clinton himself. Does it get any more perfect than that?

“But it’s not so simple. If you can put its dreadful former owner aside, the New Republic has actually been pretty damned good in the last few years. One of the very last issues to appear featured James Wolcott’s piece-by-piece dismantling of the Lena Dunham phenomenon. Just a few months ago, TNR editor Frank Foer said exactly what needs to be said about Amazon. Last year Alec MacGillis wrote one of the few really critical stories about Bill Clinton’s post-presidential operations. Back in 2010, John Judis offered one of the first and best accounts of President Obama’s failings—a critique that has been echoed today by just about everyone. I myself wrote a story I’m still proud of for TNR back in 2006 (can’t find a link to it, it was about lobbyists). Over the years they ran a whole bunch of essays by Tom Geoghegan, who is one of the most unfairly overlooked writers we have. And as long as I live I will never forget Henry Fairlie’s epic beatdown of George Will.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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