The NEW REPUBLIC Editor As Gap Model


With the old New Republic in the news lately for its sins of straight white gentile male privilege, it’s worth noting that if you had read the news very carefully back in the day, you might have noticed that wasn’t really what was going on. From the New York Times Magazine in 1993:

The Editor as Gap Model

By Walter Kirn;

Published: March 7, 1993

At this morning’s staff meeting of The New Republic — the elite weekly journal of political opinion that has counted Labor Secretary Robert Reich as a frequent contributor, Vice President Al Gore as a close friend and the moderate political philosophy known as “Clintonism” as something of an in-house invention — Andrew Sullivan, the editor, has two major subjects on his agenda: Somalia and the Gap.

… The younger, 30-ish editors, like Michael Lewis and Jacob Weisberg (both of whom pursued graduate studies in England and both of whom, with Sullivan, reside in a renovated Washington schoolhouse nicknamed by Kinsley “the Kindergarten”) exhibit the cocksure, sped-up expressiveness of young men stamped “gifted” from their earliest report cards. If the nation’s ruling bodies were chosen not by popular elections but according to scores on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the Government might look and act much like this staff meeting of TNR, as the magazine calls itself.

One older man sticks out. Dressed from head to toe in black, radiating pride in his golden proteges, he is The New Republic’s 53-year-old owner and chairman, Martin Peretz (Marty to friends, and to his many enemies). Since buying the magazine with his wife, Anne, in 1974, Peretz — a no-apologies Zionist and Harvard sociology lecturer who once taught the young Al Gore … He sits at the end of the long, crowded conference table, absorbing his underlings’ views on the Somalia mission. Eventually, he clears his throat and says last-wordishly: “Me, I never saw an intervention I didn’t like.” …

Within a few weeks, [Sullivan] will accept a longstanding offer to become a Gap model himself and pose in a magazine ad. It’s true: the editor of what is, arguably, America’s leading political journal lending the dignity of his position to a line of moderate-priced sportswear. …

I can recall rolling my eyes while hauling my carry-on bag through O’Hare Airport past a 9-foot tall photo of Andrew Sullivan advertising Gap t-shirts. (This was before Sullivan announced he was HIV-infected in the mid-1990s and before he attributed his comeback in 2002 to his prescription testosterone injections.)

Aided by a senior editor, Anne Hulbert, one of the very few women on the masthead (Dorothy Wickenden, the executive editor, resigned last month to become national editor of Newsweek), Wieseltier strives “to slow things down a little so people can actually think about them.” Sometimes he slows things down a lot, as was the case with a recent multipage John Simon essay on Janacek’s operas. …

[Peretz’s] gushing Oct. 19 editorial, “Gore in Private: The Other Al,” which praised its subject as “very much a man of parts,” …

Okay, Walter, Marty Peretz gushing over Al Gore’s manly parts … I get it.

“When Marty bought TNR, he was despised as an interloper,” says Michael Kinsley. “It’s either a betrayal or an accomplishment that we’re now taken seriously.” And how did Peretz effect this betrayal/accomplishment? By moving slowly and steadily right, most observers agree — particularly on matters of race and foreign affairs. “In cartoon form,” Morley says of his stint there in the mid-80′s, “TNR was about not being easy on blacks, not being easy on Communists and not being tough on Jews.”

… Sometimes, the evolution away from liberalism was downright embarrassing, as when New Republic Books published “Merger Mania” by Peretz’s friend Ivan Boesky, of whom Peretz once enthused, “It’s easy to be a very shrewd investor when you’re investing with such friends.”

Uh … yeah!

Other evolutionary growing pains included raucous screaming matches between Peretz and his editors in the hallways, out of which developed a peculiar rhythm of editors departing and returning only to leave and return again. (“TNR,” says Fred Barnes, “is a hotbed of prodigal sons.”)

The metaphorical term “hotbed” turns up a lot in profiles of golden age TNR. At least I hope it’s metaphorical.

But the real credit for The New Republic’s current prestige both inside and outside the Beltway goes by almost all accounts to Michael Kinsley …

Kinsley really was an astonishingly energizing editor in the 1980s at several magazines. His health has been poor in recent years, so he’s pretty obscure today, but he was an important figure in his youthful prime.

None of this is to imply that many of the Bright Young Men of the golden age of The New Republic shared their owner’s predilection, with the obvious exception of Sullivan and a few others.

Peretz’s early crush, Al Gore, for example, is a pretty straight guy. When he divorced Tipper Gore, it was over another woman. Indeed, Al sees himself as a heterosexual hero, claiming that Harvard professor Erich Segal’s enormous bestseller Love Story was based on him and Tipper.

But Al, with his subtle sibilant S lissssp, wasn’t the prime object of fascination of Prof. Segal, an expert on Greek and Latin. Instead, Love Story’s Oliver was based on Al’s more masculine roommate, football player Tommy Lee Jones (with only a few traits of Oliver, such as his overbearing politician dad, being based on Al). While Tommy interested Prof. Segal, Al’s shikso-ness amazed Professor Peretz.

My impression is that Peretz’s type of misogynistic youth-worshipping homosexual is fairly rare. Generally, male homosexuals and women get along pretty well, so the Peretz-type who considers women of zero interest is rather unusual.

On the other hand, Marty’s type of masculinity-worshipping gay man has been of outsized importance in the role of impresario. I suspect that the dirty little secret of cultural history is that humanity’s cultural high points (e.g., ancient Athens) tend to coincide with Marty’s kind of girl-despising homosexuality. (This is not a popular opinion on any side at present.)

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