01 February 2013

The Newer Republic

A rather ugly magazine landed in my mailbox this week. It turned out to be the redesigned New Republic, the handiwork of Chris Hughes, who bought the venerable fortnightly last year. Hughes, a former roommate of Mark Zuckerberg and campaign worker for President Obama, has now put his personal stamp on the magazine, and aesthetically, as far as I'm concerned, it's a bit of a dud, a desperate attempt to make a more-or-less intellectual journal look trendy if not edgy. The somewhat extreme makeover seems to have awakened people to the old news of new management at the magazine. Some of those catching up with the news have taken alarm at the suddenly-discovered absence of Martin Peretz's guiding hand, which had made TNR, despite plenty of fine, smart writing and an outstanding cultural section, an organ of strident Zionism often bordering on outright hatred for Arabs. It remains to be seen whether Hughes and returning editor Franklin Foer, himself Jewish, will tone down the magazine's occasional neocon tendencies, but at least one right-wing website has rushed to judgment, accusing Hughes of "purging" Jewish contributors and worrying that the changes will dilute TNR's dedication to Israel.  Since there are Jewish contributors coming on board as well as Jewish contributors leaving, the charge strikes some as ridiculous, while this comment focuses less on the accuracy than on the "shrill" tone of the accusation. Critics may also worry that, given Hughes's background in the President's camp, the magazine will be even more propagandistically pro-Obama than it already had been. The new issue's cover-story interview with Obama has already irked the usual opinionators because the President dared complain that talk radio, Fox News, etc., are making it more difficult for Republican legislators to participate pragmatically in government. How dare he say such a thing? How dare it publish such a thing? Never mind that the same interview might have appeared under the old regime, with perhaps a different interviewer from Hughes himself. We're dealing with a species of conservative, most of whom already regard change with suspicion, for whom in particular the walls always seem to be closing in, the jackboots are always echoing, the barbarians are always at the gate. A change in management at a magazine is as good a sign of the apocalypse as any.

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