I don’t especially care about the death of New Republic. As I discussed in, New Republic: 1914 – 2014, I mostly associate it with The Bell Curve. But I am interested in Chris Hughes. After all, what did Chris Hughes do in life? His singular claim to fame is that he was Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate. In exchange for that chance encounter, Hughes has a half billion dollars. Now I don’t think much of Zuckerberg either. But at least he did something and was a leader of men. Hughes is just a man-child who ought to be a barista at a suburban Starbucks.
So I’m really interested in how this entitled rich boy went from the savior of New Republic to its destroyer. And luckily, Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker has the whole story, Inside the Collapse of the New Republic. Just to give you a little idea of how thoroughly Hughes has managed to destroy the magazine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at the hundred year anniversary for the magazine last month. This month, she canceled her subscription. But it may not matter. Because of the mass resignations, New Republic has stopped producing the magazine until February. We’ll see if they manage to grind one out even then. And if they do, I wonder how long it will go on. The two top people are New Republic have no experience doing actual journalism.
But I don’t want to get distracted. My interest is in Chris Hughes and his crybaby act. According to the article, things were great at first. Hughes even went to a conference with the writers and editors and hung out with them late into the night. Sadly, everyone involved, including Lizza, seems to think that this was a good sign. But it wasn’t. It was just a pampered rich boy playing with his new toy. Here were all these urbane sophisticated people willing to hang out with Hughes, who is the kind of guy every one of those writers would have scoffed at had he not been the boss.
Just how pathetic a figure is Chris Hughes? After totally screwing up and causing a mass exodus of his staff, he whined to his remaining staff that he cared “about tradition and about institutions.” And as an example of that, he noted that he studied history and literature at Harvard. Oh my! That does settle it, then. And this is why he hired a guy who said the following on his first day of being placed in charged of the magazine:
They say that there’s two types of CEOs. There’s the peacetime CEO and the wartime CEO. Not to be overly dramatic about it, but this is sort of a war. This is a wartime period. That just means that we need to change a lot of things. We need to just break shit. Sorry to say, we’ve got to break shit and embrace being uncomfortable sometimes. And it’s scary. It’s definitely a scary thing to do. But it’s also fun: you know, lean up against the wall and break it.
This bit of self-consciously belligerent new economy babble was widely mocked by the staff at New Republic. What’s become clear over the past decade or so is that the jargon of the high tech “entrepreneurs” is no more meaningful than the Sun Tzu quotations of the idiot traders of the 1980s. But this is all that Hughes and company bring to the table: business “truisms.” The fact that Hughes considers himself a Democrat is all you really need to know about the state of the Democratic Party.
One of the first things that Hughes did after buying New Republic was an amazing bit of micromanagement. The magazine was already being printed. But Hughes stopped it because he didn’t like the following headline, “Attack of the Crybabies: Why Hedge Fund Honchos Turned Against Obama.” He had the staff remove “Attack of the Crybabies” from the headline. Similarly, when Amazon cut off their participation in their Alpha House campaign because of a critical New Republic article, Hughes did not want that information made public. That one’s a twofer: two different high tech icons showing that they behave exactly the same (if not worse) than their business predecessors.
But I will just quote Lizza for the best example of how small-minded Chris Hughes is. It shows what really attracts him to the Democratic Party: it accepts his sexual orientation and makes no claims on his wealth:
Hughes’s eroding relationship with the staff took on an ideological edge. On the morning that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, announced that he was gay, MacGillis wrote a note to “the Plank,” TNR’s internal e-mail listserv for writers and editors. “I see the celebration of his announcement, while entirely justifiable, as another sign of what’s happened to liberalism today, where rights/identity liberalism trumps economic liberalism,” he wrote. “This is, after all, a guy who embodies so much of what’s amiss in the age of inequality — pulling down $378 million in 2011 alone; Apple skirting taxes more brazenly than anyone else — yet those revelations have caused barely a stir.”
Hughes responded to the note six minutes later: “I think those are valid issues, although Apple has acted squarely within the law,” he wrote. “The law itself is fucked up. But I don’t think you can underestimate the difficulty of his decision or how tone deaf that argument would be today.”
The other editorial employees on the list were surprised by the response. It was an internal listserv for writers and editors, and the staffers didn’t realize that Hughes, who had relinquished his title as editor-in-chief when he installed Vidra, was on it. MacGillis responded by saying that he would hold off on writing, but added, “Just for the record, though, it is not so clear that Apple acted squarely within the law. The law’s a mess, but Apple pushed the bounds of it more than anyone.” He pasted text from a piece in the Times that questioned some of Apple’s practices.
“I’m confused,” Hughes wrote back. “Has anyone, including this article, said what they did was illegal? Companies have an obligation to their shareholders to maximize shareholder value, including through strategic tax planning.”
When the whole thing was over, Hughes was genuinely surprised. One ex-staffer said, “He was shocked. And I’m kind of shocked that he was shocked.” Hughes had no problem with New Republic being a money loser so long as he was having fun with his new toy. But that could only last so long. Rather than flattering him, people like Alec MacGillis were saying things that indicated that maybe they disagreed with his outlook on life. So New Republic quickly became just another investment. And that meant that it needed to make money! Of course, Chris Hughes doesn’t have a clue how to actually make money other than to hire people who speak the same incoherent language that he does.
If we had a just society, Chris Hughes would die soon, alone, and broke. But no one with a half billion dollars is ever allowed to fail in our society. So Chris Hughes will always be successful in the only way that matters to him: financially. But I do hope that liberals will finally wake up to the fact that Chris Hughes and all the other billionaire “liberals” are anything but actual liberals. They are, in fact, a great impediment to making social progress. We need to elect a president who would never take a call from the likes of the crybaby billionaire class. They only harm society.
Update (14 December 2014 10:14 am)
I haven’t read it yet, but the subtitle to Thomas Frank’s column today is, “Zillionaire new media barons think themselves geniuses, not say, really lucky to’ve been Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate.” It appears great and middling Franks think alike.