Without the New Republic, I Have No Reason to Live

The New Republic's implosion is less noteworthy than the explosion of outrage it's generated.

Good thing they already had the gala.

Photographer: Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images

Sometimes you just have to marvel at the self-importance of the American political commentator. The outrage in that high caste provoked by the drama at the New Republic has been something to behold. To me, anyway, it's far more interesting than the fate of the title.

Granted, I may be unique among Washington journalists in never having worked there. Perhaps that's why I fail to see the full gravity of these events. But I'm proud to say I know many who served with distinction in that noble cause. This must count for something.

Let me see if I understand. The owner of TNR had his own plans for the title, and these didn't include the present editor. What astonishing presumption. Let there be mass resignations. If you're a subscriber -- you almost certainly aren't, but I'm saying if you are -- cancel at once. The New Republic is about to be crippled, which is a disgrace; all that remains is for people of conscience to combine forces and shut it down altogether.

I'm grateful to Twitter for recording this orgy of egotism and entitlement. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza asked to be removed from the masthead as a contributing editor (a vanity title, in case you're wondering: quite a sacrifice to give that up). New York's Jonathan Chait said me too, "it goes without saying."  "Okay, no joking now," said Ross Douthat of the New York Times. "This TNR news is bad for everyone." Well, I hadn't thought of that. Bad for everyone. How will I ever break it to my neighbors in West Virginia? I'm concerned the news has not yet reached them.   

Douthat's pointless hand-wringing wasn't enough for Slate's Jacob Weisberg. He demanded action: "Anybody who didn't quit TNR today deserves to be fired." (An hour later, he'd had second thoughts and pleaded irony. I don't think so.) By Friday afternoon it seemed much of the editorial staff had indeed quit or been fired. Weisberg may think that's excellent, but I'd like to go further and suggest that he now resign in solidarity from his own job (running digital titles that aim to disrupt the magazine business and make money in a post-print world). Think of the power of that protest! A shot heard round the world.

I don't deny that the execution of the changes at TNR is a master class in mismanagement. I defer to nobody in my contempt for the office-speak in the CEO's memo about "re-imagining The New Republic as a vertically integrated digital media company" -- about "content" and "platforms" and "brands." Funny how executives concerned above all with brands should be so careless with the one they bought.

The treatment of Franklin Foer, the widely admired outgoing editor, was shabby in the extreme -- though not exactly unprecedented in this or any other industry. (Apparently he heard from outsiders, not from his bosses, that he was being replaced.) I don't deny that the owner, Chris Hughes, is offensively young and rich. His timing, so soon after the magazine celebrated its 100th birthday, is pitiful. None of this rises to the level of world-historical heartbreak.

You might say, the New Republic was a great and storied title. Why buy it in order to destroy it? Yes, in its day, it was indeed an indispensable magazine, but that was a long time ago. It's years since it was required reading, even for people (such as myself) who are paid to take an interest in the things it writes about. Fact is, very little any longer is required reading: Choices have expanded in such a way as to make that idea anachronistic.

It's no act of disrespect to the achievements of the past to change -- or even to shut down, if it comes to that -- a publication that's lost its way. Even if money doesn't come into it, titles ought to be living things, not monuments to what they were. The same goes, only more so, for writers and editors.

And, to repeat, we don't know what the new TNR will be. On the face of it, the idea of a reduced frequency of print publication and a bigger web and mobile presence makes sense. The new editor, Gabriel Snyder, most recently of Bloomberg Media, is ex-Atlantic -- a publication that has, by most accounts, handled the same transition rather well. (I worked there and was a witness to the first stages of the change, but take no credit and accept no blame.)

The Atlantic's role in American letters and politics is hardly less significant than TNR's. Its print magazine survives, and its various web endeavors have prospered. Without a big and often painful upheaval -- one that senior editors who'd worked there many years found difficult or impossible to accept -- the Atlantic might by now have gone.

I don't think that would have been a better outcome, but it's one that the puffed-up devotees of the New Republic appear to desire for the object of their veneration. Whatever. There are more important things to worry about.

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