I, for one, welcome the Gawkerization of The New Republic. At least that most noxious of American credentialing rituals—supporting punishing policies abroad and at home to show you are a serious person—might finally be extirpated from American letters. It isn’t just that writers at The New Republic were the best practitioners of the form; the magazine itself was the credentialing agency. Young writers would go in with a healthy skepticism toward the state and corporate power and come out “serious” people, ready to write for other serious men.
Seth Ackerman, a historian and an editor at Jacobin, tells this story:
When I did the Harper’s internship in 1998, the previous occupant of my intern desk was Ryan Lizza, so it was Ryan who trained me and I got to know him a little. By that point I think he had worked for an environmental news agency, and I recall that he liked Noam Chomsky, and I vaguely remember us rapping about left-wing politics. He had applied to be a reporter-researcher at TNR and it was while he was training me that he got the news he’d been accepted. That was in January. Flash forward to the Harper’s Christmas party that December. It’s the eve of Operation Desert Fox (one of Clinton’s many bombing campaigns in Iraq), and Ryan is standing around the party going off about how if Clinton doesn’t go in with ground troops it’ll be Munich 1938 all over again, and the appeasement has to stop, and Kofi Annan is Neville Chamberlain etc. etc. I remember Roger Hodge [an editor of Harpers at the time] and just looked at each other in amazement and Roger says to me: “What the fuck happened to him?” I said, “The New Republic happened to him.”
Operation Desert Fox was the “wag-the-dog” missile launch Clinton executed just before the House was to debate and vote on impeachment. If only Lizza had applied for a position at Spy (Gawker wasn’t yet founded), he might have been making snarky comments about blue dresses at that cocktail party rather than trying to sound like Winston Churchill.
Lamentations for TNR have poured in through the Internet and Twitter, mourning the fact that the magazine’s new Facebook owner has named a former editor of Gawker to take over, which, in turned, prompted the exodus of its editors and many of its contributing writers. “The promise of American life has been dealt a lamentable blow,” writes a group of former editors and contributors.
Others, though, tell a different story. Max Fischer, who worked at TNR, takes many of the outraged to task for remaining silent in the face of the unremitting racism (against African-Americans, Arabs and Latinos) of magazine’s former owner, Marty Peretz. Freddie DeBoer reminds us of its racist 1996 cover of its issue on welfare reform. If you look at that image, DeBoer writes, “you’ll see genuine human cruelty—ignorant, proud, racist, grubby, petty cruelty.” The New Republic, DeBoer says, launched a “sustained, willful, deliberate assassination of compassion as a political virtue.” Corey Robin points out that the magazine has long been dead. It hasn’t had a “real project” since at least the 1980s when it took the lead in an anti–New Left realignment of liberal politics, embracing Reagan’s remilitarization and remarketization of society.