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RIP, TNR

In a sense, I started writing online because of The New Republic.

Before I had my own barely-read little blog (of which we shall not speak further), before I joined the community here, I participated widely in the comments section on TNR’s various blogs, particularly The Plank. (Given the unmitigated contempt I now hold for all online comments sections save the one hereabouts, the irony is not lost on me.) It was my first foray into digital communication, into sharing ideas with unknown other readers connecting across the Internet. When a friend suggested a blog together, I went with the idea because I’d gotten familiar with the kind of writing I wanted to do thanks to the host site.

This week, the new owner of The New Republic, venerable American journal of political and cultural commentary that it is, decided to destroy it. Chris Hughes, the Facebook billionaire who bought it, sacked both editor-in-chief Franklin Foer and long-time literary editor Leon Wieseltier, all in service of transforming the publication from a place for in-depth, long-form articles into a “digital media company.” This has led to the mass exodus of essentially its entire editorial staff (including favorite writers of mine), and a resoundingly horrified outcry from many of its prominent alumni, including Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Chait.

As someone who considers himself incredibly lucky to have become a paid writer at a bona fide digital media company, perhaps it seems hypocritical to lament this. It’s conceivable that outlets like The Daily Beast are what the new New Republic will resemble, after all. I’m all too happy to write for the one, so why should I grieve the loss of the other?

But of course, one doesn’t have to hate Buzzfeed to want alternatives. (I am addicted to their videos of staffers eating unfamiliar foods.) One doesn’t have to hate the Gawker media empire to be afraid of every outlet coming to resemble it. One doesn’t have to dismiss the journalism at Slate or Salon or Huffington Post to want a source of long-form articles that would likely bore the ever-living crap out of most of their readers.

Even when I have disagreed with the political perspectives contained in its pages (I was never a fan of Marty Peretz’s geopolitical views), what has always been undeniable is the depth and breadth of the thinking there. The writers it has fostered are among the most skilled in the industry (Chris Orr remains my favorite movie critic), and even though my print subscription lapsed years ago (along with so many others) it’s always been a reliable source of thoughtful, insightful commentary and analysis.

In fact, I’ve always harbored the ambition to write something for them. Friend and one-time fellow Ordinary Conor Williams is the subject of my unalloyed envy for contributing there, and one of these days I hoped to pester him to connect me with an editor when I finally sat down and wrote a policy-heavy piece I thought might be a good fit. The very first thing I ever submitted for consideration was to The New Republic (a review of the film version of “Rent,” which I loathed), eventually politely declined. But I still harbor an ambition to land a byline there.

Or rather, I did. Because what’s the point now that the new owners have decided a century’s worth of prestige and intellectual rigor is worth discarding? Why bother trying to consider a thoughtful, lengthy discussion of some aspect of healthcare policy if thoughtful, lengthy discussions are no longer going to be what they want? If their model is to be just one more “digital media” outlet rather than an actual journal, then it hardly seems an ambition to shoot for.

The New Republic offered something special and worth protecting in the American intellectual and literary landscape. If ever there were something worth preserving with one’s billions of dollars, its legacy would be one of them. The bloodbath at the head of the editorial staff seems roughly akin to me to buying “Starry Night” then cutting it into squares for sale as coasters. If the new owners never understood the real value their new acquisition had in the first place, it is a tragedy for American letters that they bought it at all.

 

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142 thoughts on “RIP, TNR

  1. And now you’ve made me teary Doc, damnit, I was doing so well being stoic. But commenting at the Plank and in the articles was my 20’s, reading their coverages of everything was my young adult life. Heck, rolling my eyes at “The Spine” was one of my things (crazy Uncle Marty was crazy but man the old git could write). Now it’s all getting blown up. Bastards.

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    • I subscribed to TNR in college, and re-subscribed after Chris Hughes bought the magazine a couple years ago. For the last year or so, it has been a wonderful magazine, featuring sharp and interesting writing, and some of my favorite writers (most specifically David Thompson, who wrote on movies).

      I have no predictions about whether the “new” TNR will be a good or bad thing, but I will certainly miss what it currently is. There are vanishingly few magazines that track politics and culture in an interesting way, so I will miss it no matter what ends up rising from its ashes.

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    • I think that is the wrong way to look at it. I doubt TNR ever had widespread readership at any point in its 100-year-plus existence. As pointed out, it hasn’t been commercially viable in decades. The issue isn’t whether the culture has shifted away from TNR: it appears TNR was always a niche outlet (which isn’t an insult, mind you).

      Rather, what happened here was that the new owner wanted to make a turn towards profitably, breaking ranks from his predecessors. That is what sealed the fate of TNR. Not attention spans, the internet, or listicles.

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    • Is there no room for deep thought in this Internet Age? Farewell, TNR for you were too good for this shallow time.

      Replace the words “internet” and “TNR” with something else, and you’ll find similar statements pretty much throughout history.

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  2. Well I am glad great minds think alike :)

    I don’t think I commented on the Plank but I did read TNR when I was an undergrad a lot along with the New Yorker and occasional issues of the Nation. Now I will need to look into a New York Review of Books subscription.

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  3. I agree that the sackings and mass resignations bode ill. But we ought not pre-judge the new product before it comes to market. I had doubts about an Internet-only magazine edited by Tina Brown, fearing it would turn in to Cosmo Online. But now I really like the Daily Beast.

    Maybe the new New Republic really will suck. But maybe it’ll have interesting stuff. Today of all days it’s too early to say.

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    • I agree. I consider the thing-that-was dead. (I had an argument on twitter earlier about whether that may have died almost 25 years ago; I think almost everyone associated with the place before and after a major upheaval in 1991 will tell you that there was institutional if not editorial continuity then, but that it (the thing it was) institutionally died today). I consider its legacy worth at least reflecting upon if not mourning.

      And the new New Republic will not be The New Republic. That’s the message the staff has sent the public with its mass resignation, and I think we should respect that judgement given the number of years’ experience at the place that start to stack up as you read that list. The new thing will be a new thing called The New Republic.

      But we don’t know yet whether the new New Republic will be bad or good. Time will tell.

      Also, I had this idea earlier: What’s keeping the alumni-in-exile who separated themselves from the magazine today from starting a kind of Shadow Republic – an online journal that keeps alive the spirit they think has been put out under the new ownership? I guess, other than “full-time journalism jobs elsewhere”? They wouldn’t have to publish all that often; the new place is only publishing 10 issues year, if they even live up to that promise (and why would they, they’re a digital media company?).

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  4. Thanks for writing, Russ. SOme of the conversation I had on the Plank were the best other than the ones I had here. I still follow the careers of many of the writers who wrote for it then.

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  5. I don’t know if I’m just in a melancholy mood, but I guess I’ve been thinking lately about the lack of quality online. What strikes me is that the sites you’ve just mentioned are mostly terrible. I mean, Salon and Slate? Gawker? Are we satisfied with these messes being our cultural intersections? I’m not singling out the left, either (although I’d hate to discredit the left by calling Gawker a member of it). I’ve been looking around recently for something new and interesting on the right, and it’s been futile so far. I am just so sick of the garbage that people pass off as political discussion. The so-called middle isn’t any better.

    I’m not looking for agreement. I’m not looking for disagreement either. I’m looking for people who are interesting. Or is that selfish of me? Throughout most of human history there hasn’t been a steady supply of provocative 5-to-15-minute-long reads. Have I let my concentration span collapse? Why are we settling for this?

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    • First Things was good for a while, but I fell out of the habit of visiting.

      Classical Values is delightful but it’s a lot more libertarian than conservative.

      The problem with conservativism is the problem with the “Classic” Rock radio station. You listen to it for six months, you’ve heard every song it’s going to play.

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    • And speaking of which, when did we as a society decide that Rolling Stone was a credible news organization again? I thought we settled that issue with a big “no” 35 years ago. How can we be wondering if they’ve fallen when they’ve been lower than mud since before the internet?

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      • Oh wow. So they retracted the piece.

        In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

        Will Dana
        Managing Editor

        http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/a-note-to-our-readers-20141205

        Well, at least my BS detector appears to be still somewhat in working order.

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      • If we all didn’t forget that Rolling Stone is garbage, then that means we turned our filters off just so we’d have something to talk about. How does that make us any better than the editor who doesn’t bother checking the facts? We have got to be responsible stakeholders in the new media environment.

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      • What’s sad is that Jackie, which is her real name, said pretty early that she felt manipulated by the reporter. The reporting by the Washington Post has been informative, if not particularly well-done (they’ve had to make corrections themselves).

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      • – by “throwing under the bus”, do you mean the sentence stating that their trust in her had been misplaced, in their apology?

        Because while I agree that RS screwed the pooch here by reporting the story in the way they did and should take the lion’s share of the blame, if her account is indeed untrue, that is a different set of facts (one that goes toward exonerating the frat in the public eye) than one of simply bad reporting (bad reporting does not necessarily exonerate the frat).

        As such, it seems an important detail to note, separate from any blame attached to it, and RS would IMO be irresponsible to conceal it in their explanation.

        Also, at the risk of ticking you off further with baseless amateur speculation, one thing I noted in the WP article was that Jackie is reported as not drinking the night of the alleged attack, because she was on migraine medication.

        This was interesting to me for two reasons: one, migraine sufferers often also suffer from anxiety and depression, which may or may not go some way towards explaining her apparent personality change (unwilling to leave her room, etc.) if she hit a major depressive episode shortly after starting school, which is a stressful time, even without an alleged gang rape.

        Two, at least one migraine medication (indomethacin) that I am aware of can cause psychosis in some users.

        Her account was so fantastical that, upon reflection, what it reminded me of most was not so much Crystal Magnum, or Tawana Brawley (though these are obvious reference points also); it reminded me of the Satanic preschool panics, except in this case the alleged preplanned occult ritual was some sort of perverted Greek rite.

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      • Crap, my migraines undermine my credibility? She may well be a confabulator, but I think that’s a stretch, Glyph.

        Here’s how I think RS dropped the ball. They could have refrained from saying their trust was misplaced. That puts the burden on her. They could have said their fact-checking deviated from standard.

        Other than shards of glass, I don’t see her story as so fantastic as to be unbelievable. It seems rather similar to Elizabeth Seccuro’s story at the very same frat. Her story may not be true, but that doesn’t mean it is an unbelievable thing to have happened. As for the shards of glass, I could see someone undergoing a traumatic experience as mistaking, say, a broken beer bottle as a glass table.

        I tweeted yesterday about how striking it is that my husband and I went through the same traumatic experience together and we each remember MAJOR details differently. I would not have believed it possible.

        I’m not saying her story should be believed by default. I got into a debate on this site once about that. I think it’s important to make sure stories such as these check out – in no small part due to faultless unreliability of memory. But the details that have been cited as incorrect – the date of the party, the lifeguard thing – are not so strong as to make me believe she’s a total confabulator.

        Threadjacking apologies, Russell.

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      • – this is always a sticky wicket and I’m not looking to undermine her credibility (extant information seems to be doing that quite effectively on its own); rather, I am seeking alternate explanations as to how such a thing could have happened.

        (Also, I get occasional migraines myself, though I am on no medication and have found that cutting fluorescent lighting and pineapples from my life has reduced their incidence to almost nothing.)

        When I read the story, before I was aware that others had started to question it, my own BS detector was going off, even if I couldn’t exactly have pointed to one single detail that was triggering it.

        Upon reflection, I can only assume it was several details in concert, the most important one being: for this to be true as reported, this frat was using premeditated grooming/gang rape as an initiation rite.

        While such a thing fits nicely with my own prejudices against frats, it just seems unlikely; more importantly, we should guard against accepting fantastical accounts that feed into our extant prejudices, as this did for many of us (see also, Satanic Daycares, or in retrospect, certain lacrosse teams).

        I don’t want to believe that this was an act of intentional confabulation on Jackie’s part, so I am left with several possibilities, one or more of which may fit: one, the reporter is some sort of Stephen Glass figure (topical!) who either intentionally or unintentionally exagerrated Jackie’s story, or led Jackie to do so; or, Jackie’s account is substantially or totally untrue.

        If it *is* untrue, and I am not accusing her of lying (which requires knowledge of the truth and intentional deception), then what’s left?

        I get where people are coming from and I agree that it’s a difficult question, but in a post- Tawana Brawley/Crystal Magnum/Conor Oberst/Stephen Glass world, to act as though these things never happen seems patently false.

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      • I think we can rule out Stephen Glass. Many people, including Eramo, reported that Jackie had told her story to them well before.

        I think two options remain open: Jackie is confabulating, or something traumatic happened to Jackie such that she sincerely believes the story she tells, but it was different in substantial ways from how it was described in the article.

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      • rs does have a legacy of good longform investigative pieces. how this got past any vetting or legal without doing due diligence is baffling – and is possible without outing your source. there’s a few decades of examples to follow.

        instead they toss their source under the bus – and regardless of whether she burned them or not, that is bad, bad form – for their own lack of following the established procedures in fact-checking.

        that said, how many people now saying “well of course rs is garbage” said that when the story first came out?

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      • Glyph, first, it now looks like Jackie was pressured and manipulated by the author (who has fallen off the face of the planet, it seems), and asked to be taken out of the story, but was refused.

        From statements Jackie has made to other publications (specifically the Washington Post), it’s clear to me that her recollection of the events’ details is much less clear than the story implies (e.g., she knew it was the great because a friend pointed out the house a year later, and she knew that was the house where it happened), and I have serious doubts about the way Ederly describes Jackie telling her the story as a result.

        I see no reason to doubt that Jackie was raped. It looks to me like the problems with traumatic memory met poor and perhaps deliberately dishonest reporting and editing, reporting and editing done in ignorance of the nature of traumatic memory. And I see yet again men who assumed she was crying rape from the start taking reporting errors as proof they were correct, justifying one of the most pernicious aspects of “rape culture.”

        We don’t know what happened to Jackie. We should be very careful about the assumptions we make about what happened to her, and where those assumptions come from.

        I may write something about this, memory being sorta my thing, but it won’t be until after the weekend.

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      • – leaving aside the question of whether one can/should burn a source who burned you (my understanding of game theory says this is at least debatable), why do people keep saying “throw under the bus”? It’s not as though RS stating her account appears to not be supported by facts is being done ONLY to minimize their own culpability (which, I agree, is MAJOR); it also communicates something about the facts of the case which I’d argue that RS, having ignited this shitstorm and furor, has a responsibility to communicate.

        If they simply say, “we did not follow best reporting practices”, that’s true as far as it goes, and doesn’t “throw Jackie under the bus”; but it also leaves the impression that her account may be supportable by the facts, something that does not appear to be the case. It protects Jackie at the expense of leaving up all that mud that they threw at the frat/school.

        Whereas saying “new information appears to contradict her account” lets people know that there appear to be issues with the facts as reported; not just HOW they were reported.

        This doesn’t seem a trivial distinction to me, and in fact seems the least RS can do after dragging several organizations and indeed an entire school population through the mud.

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      • This is a source who, we now know, expressed a lack of confidence in details and asked not to be in the story, but was told she had no choice. So, when shit goes bad, RS says, “We trusted her, and now know our trust was misplaced.” Fuck them.

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      • “This is a source who, we now know, expressed a lack of confidence in details and asked not to be in the story, but was told she had no choice. So, when shit goes bad, RS says, “We trusted her, and now know our trust was misplaced.” Fuck them.”

        If that’s the way it went down, indeed, fuck them.

        I’d argue, unless RS are admitting that is the way it went down, we don’t know.

        I fully agree that RS is now saying whatever it needs to say to cover its own ass and make itself look less bad.

        I see no reason why Jackie wouldn’t be doing the same in her interviews with the WP.

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      • “why do people keep saying “throw under the bus”?”

        because those errors are their own fault. not following decades worth of established practices when dealing with confidential sources can’t be followed up with “heck guys, we’re just simple country magazine folk, golly”. whatever their main source may or may not have told them, they had a responsibility to properly vet it, as well as properly handle said source. if they thought it was very plausible but couldn’t fully back up the claims, or if the source was wavering, you just walk the hell away from the story. or you find a different angle and use that as a jumping off point for a larger piece on sexual assault at uva.

        their inability to properly do their job is not their source’s fault, even if the incident was entirely fabricated.

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      • – stipulated that that is all 100% true. However, as I keep noting, the statement communicates additional info other than “RS CYA” and “blame apportionment” – it communicates something more, something that RS now, having screwed the pooch, owes the frat/school.

        I agree RS should have walked away from this story long before it came to this. However, having come to this, where there are no longer any good choices left, it’s not clear to me that this is the worst choice, nor an indefensible one. The court of public opinion exists, and there has to be some sort of penalty for perjury.

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      • I’d like to retract the last line in my last comment as perhaps coming across more harsh or judgemental than it’s meant to be; I only mean to say that, having communicated what appear to be falsehoods, RS has a responsibility to then communicate the truth. The rest of it stands.

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      • – for some reason I missed your 12:40 comment, I wasn’t ignoring it. I look forward to anything you want to post on it.

        If it’s not clear, I do understand where you and Rose et al are coming from, even if I’m not sure I am in 100% agreement with all of your conclusions.

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      • i agree rs has a responsibility to retract/reframe/etc in this case. but how you do it is “we screwed up” not “we screwed up because we were misled”.

        even if it were 100% not their fault, they’d still have been better served to eat the entire shit sandwich themselves.

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      • – I agree that eating the entire sandwich themselves would be best for RS’s reputation at this point – and obviously, also for Jackie’s.

        The problem, as I see it, is that that is NOT the best action to take for the reputation of the frat/school/student body that RS trashed, and now has an obligation to help repair.

        If I say “my source tells me that dhex has unnatural relations with manatees”, and then retract that by saying “Me saying that dhex has unnatural relations with manatees was outside OT commenting policy”, that retraction is very different in content than saying “my source that told me dhex has unnatural relations with manatees, is not supported by the facts as I now understand them.” In the audience’s mind the first retraction leaves wide open the possibility that you DO have relations with manatees, but I am under pressure for one reason or another not to SAY you do.

        I don’t know of any way to phrase the retraction to fully communicate everything that needs to be communicated, without casting some responsibility on the person who provided the bad info. This is unfortunate, but probably inevitable. To do otherwise arguably helps repair/preserve RS’ and the accuser’s reputations, while doing nothing to repair the reputation of the apparently-falsely accused.

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      • Jackie’s story is the testimony of someone who had been through a horribly traumatic event, told years afterward. Given what we all know (and often bring up, when it suits us) about the value of uncorroborated first-hand testimony, it cannot, by itself, cannot be regarded as completely accurate. If Rolling Stone reported it as fact without verifying it through other sources, that’s both incredibly irresponsible and completely on them. Blaming Jackie is Giulianiesque.

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      • They could have said, “We have discovered since publication that there is some possibly exculpatory evidence for the members of Phi Psi. We can no longer state with confidence that incident that opened the article occurred as described. Had we followed our usual protocols of reporting, we certainly would have unearthed this information before we went to press with the story. The fault is our own for not following our usual journalistic standards. We apologize to the many, many people who were hurt by the publication of this story.”

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      • “why do people keep saying “throw under the bus”?”
        because those errors are their own fault… their inability to properly do their job is not their source’s fault, even if the incident was entirely fabricated.”

        “If Rolling Stone reported it as fact without verifying it through other sources, that’s both incredibly irresponsible and completely on them. Blaming Jackie is Giulianiesque.”

        FWIW, when I have seen people use the phrase “throw under the bus” on the Rolling Stone article it hasn’t been in relation to Jackie, it’s been in relation to the writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

        Also FWIW, I notice that in most left-wing blogs I’ve read that have anything to say about TNR’s shakeup, they also use they also use the phrase “throw under the bus” to describe what happened with Scott Beauchamp.

        And lastly FWIW, I actually think there is something to note here: No one describes their disassociating themselves with Stephen Glass as throwing him under the bus.

        None of which is a defense of TNR on either of these three fronts; they deserve to be taken to the woodshed for all three, as far as I’m concerned. Still, it’s interesting to see the nomenclature that is used for one isn’t used for the other two.

        I don’t think this is a big thing, mind you. But I think it’s still a thing.

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      • It’s very clearly that Stephen Glass was making shit up. That’s not at all clear with Scott Beauchamp. The Army and Michael Goldfarb say so, but the first is an interested party and the second also says that Obama is an anti-Semite.

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      • the key to bus throwing is that the tossee is not complicit in the reason for the oncoming vehicle. that’s clearly not the case with glass. if there are any pro-glassians out there, however, i’m sure they might use the phrase.

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      • I thought he himself had refused to stand by the stories? (It was a while ago, and so I concede I might well be wrong about that.)

        Is Sabrina Rubin Erdely not in any way complicit for the oncoming traffic heading her way?

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      • I can’t say I have it completely figured out. But Foer’s retraction says:

        When I last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.

        Which is not Beauchamp recanting. Goldfarb wrote that he’d recanted during the Army investigation, quoting an unnamed military source. No such information was ever made public. Beauchamp’s sergeant, who had denied publicly that the sorts of things Beauchamp wrote ever took place, was later convicted of murdering four Iraqi detainees and is currently serving 40 years in Leavenworth.

        So it’s at the very least not cut and dried.

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      • “Is Sabrina Rubin Erdely not in any way complicit for the oncoming traffic heading her way?”

        oh most certainly. more strident supporters won’t see it that way, of course.

        unless you were zen koan’in this to some degree i didn’t understand, in which case carry on!

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    • Slate: I enjoy Dana Stevens as a movie reviewer (Vassar shout out to a fellow alum!), I like Bazelon and Lithwick, and Weissman. There tendency towards #slatepitch has decreased and I like their podcasts.

      I wrote this below but magazines like The New Republic, The Nation, and the National Review have always been charity operations and not profit making operations. Newspapers suffered their first big decline in readership when TV became widespread. They were probably mainly used as entertainment instead of for serious news. The Big News Channels are watched by only a few million people but those people tend to be junkies who just keep it on all the time.

      News and political and policy junkies are exceptions, not rules.

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      • Most newspapers made their money from ads including alternative newspapers (though their ads tended to be related to sex work). Once the Internet came along, the ad revenue dried up and the newspapers went bust including the alt.weeklies.

        I don’t think it would be too difficult. I’d be surprised if TNR and The Nation and The National Review didn’t operate under non profit status.

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      • It would be very difficult. The golden age of newspapers occurred because, as Saul pointed out, newspapers were the best way for merchants to reach potential customers about ads and tell them about sales and other special deals. Before radio or television, if you owned a big department store than the best way to tell people about a big sale for the holidays was to put an ad in the metropolitan dailies. These ads fueled investigative reporting on local, national, and international issues and the fun parts of the newspaper.

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      • “but I wonder how difficult it would be for newspapers to go non-profit”

        weirdly enough, i happen to be working on something with a community paper that’s going non-profit. the caveat is that it’s 100% online and already a known commodity in the region. grants, sponsorships, and donations are the revenue-generating streams being relied upon.

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    • It’s interesting, both in relation to @pinky’s complaint and especially in light of the events of the last few days, to read Franklin Foer’s essay on the founding and history of TNR from the recent Centennial Issue: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120193/how-new-republic-was-founded , but for now I just want to point to a contradiction, or two, that may help explain his dissatisfaction with the state of our political-cultural internet, which I of course share: On the one hand, he just wants to find “interesting people.” On the other hand, he finds the venues for our “cultural intersections” “terrible.” It seems to me that part of what makes those sites such “messes” is that they are so much more interested in being interesting than in being “non-terrible.”

      I’m biting my virtual lip about extending the observation in regard to this site, but feel I have to do so at least a little bit, since I see no reason why this interrogation shouldn’t be a self-interrogation wherever it is conducted – whether at Gawker or New York or US Intellectual History. So, why isn’t this site the site that wants and possibly needs? I think most of the commenters and regular contributors are interested in being interesting, and every post is posted and comment commented with the obvious expectation that someone will find it “interesting” in one or both senses of the term as we use it – i.e., entertaining or engaging in relation to serious matters. Every post strives to be a 5- to 15-minute provocation, and the site wants to offer a steady supply of the same – even if doing so would at the same time somewhat contradict the “ordinary” (sub-optimal) spirit of the place (which may be part of the problem…).

      These are all complex matters, and I don’t have time to go into them in much detail today – some will give thanks – but I’ll just note that the debacle at TNR concerns everyone – especially in America, obviously, but not just in America – who might be inclined to venture a serious argument on a political, cultural, or political-cultural matter at all. It raises questions both about the nature of public life and about the possibility of dealing sensibly or self-consciously with those same questions: It raises questions about who and what “we” are. It’s not that the little New Republic, home of racist elitist neo-con rape minimizers or whatever the latest party line on it is, has lately been so important in itself, but the reduction and potential extinction of its habitat may say something about our larger cultural ecosystem. If the zombie-death of The New Republic isn’t actually the death of the “republic of letters” or of “public reason” in America, and the birth in its place of a zombie culture-state, it evokes the latter as an actual possibility if not a fait accompli, or makes viewing the state of things that way just a bit more credible.

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    • What do you think of The American Conservative? I think they’re hit-or-(really badly)-miss, but they have some really good stuff there a lot of the time.

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      • I like it quite a bit. It’s the one “conservative” magazine I subscribe to so I can tell myself that I’m open-minded.

        But I really appreciate it for its ability to articulate a conservatism that is apart from “movement conservatism.”

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      • Agreed. After the veiled bigotry of so much of movement conservatism, it’s refreshing to see Dreher and Buchanan be completely open about it. If only Joseph Sobran were still around.

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      • I don’t know that Millman is the only Jew who regularly writes there, but Millman alone is churning out at least 5% of the site’s output, so even if there aren’t other Jews at TAC they’re still better than proportionally represented relative to their national population.

        I’m also not sure that Daniel Larison is an anti-Semite. Maybe he is, and I’m just not familiar enough with him to know. What do you think is the best evidence of his anti-Semitism? I know that “anti-Semite” is a common charge against consistent critics of Israel, even when it isn’t substantiated. Hopefully that’s not the case here.

        Now Pat Buchanan, on the other hand…

        Yeah, Buchanan is pretty goddamn unreconstructed, and while Dreher has his decent moments, he’s a lot more “con” than “crunchy”, which personally doesn’t sit well with me. But the other writers can be great: I think Gracy Olmstead is one of the most interesting millennial writers around, Noah Millman is consistently perceptive, and TAC does a good job of soliciting one-off articles on really relevant topics (like their great series on urban planning). I don’t think these should get thrown under the rug because of Dreher and Buchanan anymore than Jon Chait should be ignored because of TNR’s many faults. (Not saying that’s your position, of course.)

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      • I have a lowish opinion of the paleocon/old Right movement and a lot of it did come from anti-Semitism like Pat Buchanan. Their political forbearers were the America First movement and America First called WWII a “Jewish War”.

        The Old Right is pretty strong in their contempt for Jews and if a person are going to work for a mag founded by ol’ Pat, I am placing the burden on said person to prove that he or she don’t have his ugliness and bigotries. Larison also writes for Taki’s Mag. And Taki is a well-known anti-Semite. According to Commentary (not a usual favorite), Larison also was a member of good standing with the League of the South until 2005.

        http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2008/01/16/ron-pauls-real-politics-the-case-of-daniel-larison/

        Now Commentary has their on ideological axes so take this with a grain of salt or many if you will but it seems to me that Daniel Larison at least strongly quacks like an anti-Semite.

        I am pretty skeptical on any alliance between liberals and paleocons.

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      • I enjoy Millman a lot, and I’d enjoy Larison a lot too if he were a bit less doctrinaire and dismissive of everyone he disagrees with. And fortunately Taki, who’s another of the founders, hardly ever writes for it.

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      • Loose charges of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism or bigotry are reprehensible, not least for the harm they do to the liberal social movements or their causes, not least by branding their proponents as hypocrites, whatever the justifications for subjecting White/Conservative/Christian/Straight/Male individuals to treatment that would never be tolerated by the anti-bigots for anyone else. (I mean “quacks like an anti-Semite”?)

        The more difficult problem, virtually un-discussable because so foundational in our political culture, is the extent to which consensual anti-bigotry contradicts consensual liberalism in the broad sense (implying a thoroughgoing and principled commitment to free inquiry). It’s convenient or conventionally justifiable in relation to presumed higher purposes simply to proscribe the likes of Buchanan and Peretz. The effect is to produce a standing uncertainty around anyone connected to them, with no clear principle for determining when the great chain of guilt by association, secondary proscription, and presumption of guilt should end.

        It doesn’t seem to me to be a coincidence that this thread would taken up by a long digression on Rolling Stone/UVA, for example. It could just as well be a long digression on “foreign policy” or Ferguson or Staten Island. The edifice of pre-emptive exclusion from the community of the good and the true crumbles at its limits, and, by the time the likes of Rod Dreher and Jonathan Chait are prepared for banishment, and the grave of the New Republic or the old New Republic becomes a place for dancing, the whole structure becomes vulnerable to collapse or the movement to radical counter-movement. Look at Europe, where far right parties seem to be on the rise, or look at the fortunes of the Democratic Party.

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  6. I confess I never really read The New Republic as a magazine, and I rarely if ever looked at their online product. (And if I’m being honest, much of what I read online this past couple of years I didn’t really care for.)

    But reading your OP, Russell, I know the feeling. It’s the way I used to feel about Harpers and the Atlantic, so many many years ago.

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    • https://storify.com/JeetHeer1/the-new-republic-in-the-era-of-facebook

      I think this essay does a pretty good job of separating the bad stuff from TNR and what might be happening to journalism more broadly.

      Chait (who seems to have raised your ire) noted that the kind of serious long-form journalism that TNR did was always a charity project that required patronage. And the newer model of rich person is seemingly not interested in this form of patronage or philanthropy. Now there is no moral or ethical requirement to support long-form journalism but I do think that there is a value to long-form journalism and not reducing everything to viral media and click bait and to thinking about an issue over weeks and months instead of “This is happening now and we need to get our essays out about it now” or we will be irrelevant in two seconds.

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      • “…the kind of serious long-form journalism that TNR did was always a charity project that required patronage. And the newer model of rich person is seemingly not interested in this form of patronage or philanthropy. Now there is no moral or ethical requirement to support long-form journalism but I do think that there is a value to long-form journalism…”
        and others

        Serious question… Was TNR a subscription site? Did you/would you have paid for it? The internet has dramatically impacted print media not only because of the way we consume content, but how we expect to compensate (or not) content creaters/providers.

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      • It was a subscription magazine that entered th digital age much the way other print publications did: awkwardly. For a while their content was free but you had to subscribe to comment. then I think some of their content became sub-only. then they went on a monthly counter system a la NYTimes.

        I’ve never paid for a subscription to any digital-focused print media org, which is to say none sinc maybe 2007. I might have considered a subscription to TNR eventually if the Internet had never happened, though. And I disagreed with a lot of what they had to say. I liked they way they said it, though. I can always find out what The Nation has to say (or guess); for me optionally paying for the written word is about having a memorable reading experience. The New Republic provided that for me when I read it. It also felt like it gave me sense of how the left-versus-middle wars were playing out and being perceived by the mainstream.

        Those are all terribly shallow media consumption values, but again, I always felt I didn’t need to pay to find out what the left thought of stuff. Some people disdain the CW, me, I was always interested in how it got made. (I have a shelves of Felicity and Dawson’s DVDS with extras here at home. (No, I don’t.))

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      • @michael-drew

        I had a print subscription for a year or two when I was in college or right after. This was around 2002-2004 when people on the left really disliked TNR.

        I think their subscription base was around 10,000 people or so which is not enough to support the mag and what it did as a profit making venture. They also depended upon additional donations from wealthy patrons.

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      • I expect TNR experienced a hate-subscription uptick in 2002-03 that was probably swamped by a hate-cancellation crash for the same reason. Which is really just a hate-cancellation crash, but I expect there were a few subscriptions that were sold just on the basis of watching the trainwreck.

        Not so this time, I imagine.

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      • and

        Thanks. It seems to me that TNR was primarily a victim of the digitalization of print media and because of its smaller footprint/reader base was less well situated to withstand it.

        I assume the prior owner sold it because it ceased to be profitable/as profitable as it had once been. The new owner probably sees greater profitability in the new model.

        It seems that this is largely a “market forces” issue than a “cultural shift” issue, as Saul alluded to in his own on the matter. If enough people valued what TNR did to pay them to do it and do it profitably, I assume it would continue to do that.

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      • , you are making the market fundamentalist mistake that only thinks that make money have value and are worth continuing. There are lots of things that don’t make money but have a lot of value. Serious long form journalism was one of them even during the golden age of the metropolitan dailies during the late 19th and early 20th century. That doesn’t mean keeping the public informed about whats going on isn’t important even if the public prefers ignorance many times.

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      • I’m not arguing about what should be… but rather what is. If the new owner feels he can make more money with a different model, who are we to argue with his choice in the matter?

        Now, if TNR provided real value but no one was willing to pay for it, that seems to leave two fundamental questions:
        1.) Are we sure it really did provide something of real value?
        2.) If it did, who should pay for that?

        I’ll concede #1: TNR provided something uniquely valuable that we are worse off for having lost.

        So who should pay for it? It seems that those who directly benefit from it — the readers — are unwilling to pay to continue to reap that value. So who does that leave? Well, it leaves the new owner. But it also leaves the writers. If they were willing to take a lower salary — or, hell, work for free! — than they could still create that value, either at TNR or elsewhere. They, seemingly, are not.

        I guess I’m a little uncomfortable with what seems like putting the entire responsibility for the (very real) loss of what TNR did at the new owner’s feet. It seems to me to be much more complicated than that with responsibility for more diffuse.

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      • your assumption is a sensible one to make in this environment but it is fundamentally mistaken. TNR was never profitable in a business sense any time in the last what forty years? The owners of the magazines pretty much generally lost money on it. It has always been a sort of patron venture, upheld by donations and by some rich person generally paying to be able to say “I own TNR”.

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      • You use the pejorative “market fundamentalist,” regularly deployed to win arguments by delegitimating one’s debate opponents rather than building an argument. But you don’t explain how something can be valuable without being valued

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      • It has always been a sort of patron venture, upheld by donations and by some rich person generally paying to be able to say “I own TNR”.

        Sometimes I wonder if that’s not going to turn out to be the case with Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post.

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      • , true. Let me put it this way. We live in a democracy and get to choose our political leaders through elections. The actions of local, state, and the federal government effects everybody in the United States and more often than not outside it as well. In order to make the best choices, from a subjective point of view of the individual voter, on who should hold office a person needs a reasonably reliable source of information on what are the issues of the day and what are the various opinions about from office holders and seekers.

        Newspapers and policy magazines were the traditional source of information. They reported on wars, foreign affairs, court cases, local government, and everything else. They exposed the mistreatment of the mentally ill in institutions designed to care for them. The money for this came from selling advertisement space more than subscriptions. The news was valuable but not enough for people to pay fair market value for it.

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      • Kazzy, morally I don’t know. I wasn’t privy to the understanding or niceties that took place in the sale of TNR to the new owner. We know that they originally came in saying they wished to uphold the institution and that has clearly changed.

        Legally they definitely have no obligations unless there’s some contract no one knows about. Morally they likely don’t have any moral obligations depending on what kinds of promises were made. It’s common knowledge that TNR didn’t exactly have a horde of wealthy people clamoring to own it so it’s not like he beat out other people for the right to lose money on an old media institution.

        That said TNR oldtimers can still bemoan the direction it took and the end of its era. Market invocations, however, aren’t enormously salient to the subject because TNR has, at least for the past few decades, been a somewhat extramarket entity (a money losing venture sustained by patrons due to nonmonetary considerations).

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      • Good points, all. I see two camps emerging among TNR fans:
        – Those saying, “I’m sad this has happened.”
        – Those saying, “This shouldn’t have happened.”

        To the latter, I invoke appeals to the market because they could have prevented it happening by paying more to protect something they cared about. I sense a wee bit of entitlement from that subset of people.

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      • , thanks for pointing it out. Interesting indeed.

        I worry that I would have behaved no differently.

        At the time, I kept paying for the subscription because the comments board was one of the few places on the internet (it seemed) where one could have really constructive discussions in comments. I paid, basically, for what Ordinary Times provides for free. There were a bunch of regulars, including Russell, and I chatted with them every day. I despised Marty Peretz, have always thought that Leon Wieseltier (sp?) was a pompous gasbag, but there were so many writers there then who blogged whose work I still like: Jonathan Chait (however much he pissed me off yesterday), Noam Scheiber (however much he pissed me off recently about Ebola), Ryan Lizza, and many others.

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  7. I guess Chris Hughes didn’t understand that “disruption” is only supposed to affect blue collar workers, not public intellectuals who go to the right cocktail parties.

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    • Are you being grammatical or sarcastic?

      I’ve seen this kind of commentary done on the Internet before and I guess I sort of get how it is supposed to show how the X in question is not something worthy of noting, knowing, or discussion but it always seems kinda lame to me.

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      • It’s one of the biggest clickbait sites. It has categories like “LOL”, “Cute”, and “WTF”.

        If you’ve ever wanted to read an essay that talks about “Every 90’s Kid Remembers These!” and then posts .gifs of Saved By The Bell and slap bracelets and Jesus Jones, Buzzfeed is the place to go.

        In its defense, “26 Reasons Kids Are Pretty Much Just Tiny Drunk Adults” is a pretty funny photo essay.

        But if you’re looking for more than a gigglesnort? Buzzfeed will be a place that you won’t miss never having known more about.

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      • By the way, , your little observation there sounds to me like something that Data from Star Trek: the Next Generation might say about the humans he works with on the Enterprise.

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      • If you honestly had no offense, I take back my remark. I’ve seen a lot of internet commentary along the lines of “what is the incredibly popular thing?” I usually take it as the poster being pompous and showing how serious he or she is by not knowing about said very popular person, thing, story, etc. Obviously you can never read tone on the internet but I read questions like that as trolling usually.

        I don’t watch a lot of TV but I don’t try to pretend I am superior by not knowing about it. At least I try to know what is out there and not ask stuff like “Who is Lena Dunham? What is Game of Thrones?”

        Jaybird gave a good answer. They have some interesting articles but are usually know for meme listicles with titles like “37 things only 90s kids from Southeast Manchester, New Hampshire will understand.”

        And thanks for the Data line. Makes a fella feel real swell.

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      • To recap: I asked what buzzfeed is, since I didn’t know what it is but everyone always talks about it. Saul assumed I was being a pompous ass and just pretending not to know what buzzfeed is and so decided to insult me by using a lot of official-sounding words derived from Latin and generalizing his insult to an anthropological analysis of some commenters on the Internet. The end result was that his comment read like something an android (Data from Star Trek) might observe about his human crewmates. Saul then admitted that he may have misread my comment, took back his insult, and as far as I am concerned, there is no more need for discussion.

        Some things are often lost in Internet communication, as this sketch from the philistine comedy Key & Peele illustrates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naleynXS7yo

        Meanwhile, I shall return to my caviar!

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      • Cheer up, CC. It’s the holiday season. (And thanks for the kind note today.) I made a joke. It wasn’t really at your expense, I didn’t think. I thought it would be fun if I said that. (I kind of botched it.)

        But in honesty, you’re on the Internet. This isn’t meatspace. Everyone’s talking about a website. you don’t know what it is. so what do you do? you ask us, not, I don’t know, type the name into your Google-enabled navigation bar? I don’t blame Saul for thinking you were making a point by asking, in addition to asking.

        (Aside to everyone: as long as the ganging up on Saul continues, I will be sticking up for him unless it’s a situation where I just can’t. I have determined that he means no harm, and your attempts to teach him to be more the way you want him to be aren’t doing anything productive. I’m not saying anyone’s doing anything wrong. But I’m in his corner until some of you lay off. I understand that his forward ness can be trying. But I also agree with him that some people are electing to take more offense from him more quickly than is necessary. He can be entertaining if you just take a breath.

        I don’t think he meant to offend here, and moreover, I’d have had the same reaction in real time, I think. I probably wouldn’t have said it, but do I wish Saul would hold back from expressing what comes into his head more? Hell no. With a little humor I think we could recognize that Saul has made this place a lot more fun, maybe despite himself, since he became a more active participant.)

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      • No worries. No harm, no foul. No offense taken here.

        I preferred the distilled version that Jaybird delivered to spending time exploring a website that is apparently the blog devil.

        I’m not aware of people ganging up on Saul.

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      • It’s not in the 5-at-a-time sense that is more acute and important to be aware of. I just think he rubs a lot people the wrong way, but stays at it so much that people are missing that he must really not mean to annoy them, so they fail to move past annoyance to just saying “that’s Saul.” I don’t think he means any harm, and the effect of people repeatedly takinf offense to him can’t be much fun. The way I see it, people really could just recgnize something of a unique character and let up. but they don’t. And it’s alot of people now, so that there have been instances of real if unintentional ganging up IMO. To my way of looking, I certainly see the faux pas’s, but I also frequently get where he’s coming from. And again, I almost always see a way in which he’s letting us know who he really is, not trying to offend others. His comments are almost always of the nature of observing how others’ culture and his put persp[ectives at odds, not saying that others are really doing something wrong. (Read carefully the times you’ve felt criticized, folks – see if I might be right!) So at this point I think he just needs one p[erson to say that he values his odd forwardness, and if you don’t, please just have some humor about it and move along. So that’s what I’m doing. Because I’m not sure what else can be done, because to me it looks like Saul is just Saul, and I’m not sure what good these personality clashes are doing anyone right now.

        I do think a lot of people are just moving along lately, and I appreciate that.

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      • I’m only slightly more aware of Buzzfeed than Chris is. I’m not sure I’ve ever been there. I’ve seen a lot of references to it, and a lot of time when there are links I would never click on, they go to Buzzfeed. That said, I recognize what Saul was saying. It’s very common on, say, Big Hollywood for there to be an article about SNL, and half the comments will be “is that show still on?”. Tangentially, that “I’m above modern culture” pose (which Chris isn’t doing) is the context for the recent Linky articles about conservatives interacting with the culture.

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      • At times, my friend. But s I suggested, I attribute much of it to our inability to adjust to a certain foreignness to many of us of your cultural background (identification with NYC as a cultural home base, and also, yes, your cultural Jewishness), and in particular your open willingness to simply let us know who you are and what that background means for you. Not to any ill will (obviously), or even particular inability to pick up on the mores of this place, on your part – or anything like that. None of which (including the willingness to let us know about your thoughts and feelings about these things) would I want you to feel for one second like you need to change on our account, nor indeed to change them at all for any other reasons.

        I want Saul to keep being Saul.

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      • Agreed with MD entirely Saul, it’s great that you be yourself. That said you may wish to keep in mind that you are an especially unique snowflake and thus when you project your opinions and policy desires across a population it is especially unworkable.

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  8. TNR was killed by a rich man, but it wasn’t Chris Hughes. It was Marty Peretz, it happened decades ago, and it had nothing to do with bloggers or technology. The pity party of belle-lettrist Luddites like to jump on Hughes to make their case that electronic media are killing old media, but the values of old media (such as intellectual honesty and integrity of reporting) can be just as readily done in by ideology. Peretz called himself a liberal and an intellectual but is an Israel-obsessed neocon and an anti-Muslim bigot. Those pearl-clutchers who fondly remember the old TNR presumably also find it a shame that one of those resigning this week was Leon Wieseltier, the self-proclaimed “policeman” of what intellectuals can say about Israel (ask former TNR editor Andrew Sullivan how it feels). The magazine that published Wieseltier’s hit jobs (to say nothing of excerpts from The Bell Curve, Elizabeth McCaughey’s attack against Hillary Clinton, and anything by Ruth Shalit) was morally dead long before anyone had heard of Buzzfeed or Chris Hughes.

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  9. I have to admit, I just don’t get it.

    Outside of the two Jonathans (Chait and Cohn), TNR has been a horrible publication for at least the last 20 years.

    Lest I be accused of hyperbole – People do remember that this is the magazine that hired this guy right? The magazine that then kept that publisher for the next decade and a half until he stopped even pretending he was dog-whistling and decided to go Full Stormfront.

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    • Put it this way:
      I’m actually pretty glad that “long-form journalism” and “in-depth reporting” these days is done by the types of people who encourage people like Ira Glass rather than those who get swindled by Stephen Glass.

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