Other than a mutual concern for informed debate and a desire for smart discussion of the arts, what do I have in common with these leading lights of public discourse, with these celebrated arbiters of taste and propriety among Washington’s elite? The New Republic stands alone among journals of liberal opinion for having a long history of bending the ear of the powerful, for speaking directly to that insulated cabal of the wealthy and consequential. If every displeased, dismayed and disillusioned journalist in the country decided one day to quit in protest of a publisher’s meanness and moral turpitude, there wouldn’t be any employed journalists anywhere. The fact that these influencers of the influential did so is a reminder of the social status and political power they continue to enjoy.
Most journalists (most I know, anyway) toil far from such lofty and influential heights. They shoulder everyday contempt and rage for the verities of newsroom politics. They despise the meddling and near-sighted ethics of their publishers. They work longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits. They freelance for pennies if they write for anything. And when they are fired or laid off or they quit, they don’t seamlessly transition to the faculty lounge or think tanks eager to embrace them. Most leave journalism altogether. To feel solidarity with those who resigned under their own power from one of the most coveted jobs anyone can have in 21st-century journalism is an act of cognitive dissonance if it isn’t an act of self-loathing.
Such was missing from most coverage of The New Republic’s collapse. Sure, we read about all the many scandalous details of what happened—that publisher Chris Hughes had hired a replacement for editor Franklin Foer before telling Foer he was being replaced; that the publication’s new CEO, Guy Vidra, appeared drunk on the incoherence of industry lingo when he told staffers he wanted to “break shit and embrace being uncomfortable” in the pursuit of transforming The New Republic into a “vertically-integrated digital-media company”; that the Washington cognoscenti chattered so garrulously about Vidra’s word-salad vision for the magazine that you’d think people everywhere actually cared about what was happening to it.
But mostly what we read about was the brave few who quit in solidarity with Foer and long-time literary editor Leon Wieseltier. They were the protagonists of a story in which they stood against vulgarity and disregard for civil institutions, in which they battled the forces of “disruptive innovation” that daily threaten to make all that’s solid melt into air and all that’s holy profane. Indeed, they were the heroes deserving of more than they were given, even though each in one way or another—intentionally or not, fairly or not—was complicit in the triumph of a conservative political order 40 years ago that in the end they said they fought so strenuously against.
From the very beginning of what would become a dominant orthodoxy in the advance of free trade, low taxation, and deregulation (in a word, “Reaganomics”), these Very Serious People reflected, rationalized and amplified the views of elite Washington. Yet when agents of that order sought to destabilize one of its primary organs, they were disgusted. The untouchables who long ago accepted creative destruction as a plainly evident fact of life were suddenly touched, and they didn’t like it. Or perhaps it wasn’t creative destruction they minded so much. Perhaps what bothered them was their no longer being the exception to the dominant orthodoxy.
They were just like everyone else.
The “Liberalism” of The New Republic Didn’t Work