Post-Gore Marty Re-Refurbishing The New Republic

Here we go again: The New Republic ‘s railing on the Democratic Party. This time, they’ve got a publicist calling up reporters, touting a hot new redesign and bragging that the magazine is getting “daring” and “more conservative.”

This happens from time to time. The New Republic has a long tradition of within-the-party tree shaking, including stances against Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy and to nuclear freezes. It supported the deployment of advance missiles to Germany; it opposed what owner Martin Peretz deemed the “racialization” of the party by men like Jesse Jackson. During that time, remembered former editor Michael Kinsley, The Wall Street Journal ‘s editorial board accused the magazine of “attacking conservatives while stealing their ideas,” and staffers joked that TNR should change its name to Even the Liberal New Republic Says … , because it was used so many times to support conservative positions.

Now, amid the George W. Bush era-and, it should be noted with Mr. Peretz’s guy, Al Gore, out of the 2004 presidential race- TNR ‘s going after its woebegone Democratic flesh and blood with renewed vigor.

“It’s back to the future,” said TNR editor Peter Beinart.

This time around, TNR ‘s disgusted with a post–Bill Clinton/Al Gore party it considers weak and wimpish. A recent press release touted “several daring political stances” by the magazine, among them, supporting war in Iraq, rejecting President Bush’s tax cut and calling on Democrats to “shun controversial presidential candidate Al Sharpton.”

It could be argued that those positions-shunning Al Sharpton!?-sound pretty moderate, about as daring as wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt to a Lehman Brothers company picnic. But Mr. Beinhart rejected that suggestion, maintaining that TNR is breaking new ground.

“‘Moderate’ suggests splitting the difference between conservative and liberals,” Mr. Beinhart said. “We’re one of the few [publications that] want to not only reject the Bush tax cut, but also want no tax cut. On war, we’re arguing that we have to go to war even without the U.N.”

Still, TNR alums wonder how much mileage the magazine can continue to gain from such against-the-grain positioning. For starters, they say, the internal Democrat-bashing has lost some of its shock value. Secondly, they argue that such counterintuitive positions make it harder for the magazine to maintain a consistent point of view.

“I read the magazine because it’s full of trenchant critiques of the Bush domestic policy,” said Hendrik Hertzberg, TNR ‘s editor from 1981 to 1985 and 1989 to 1991. “When I see a piece saying ‘Nancy Pelosi is a Stalinist,’ I just skip it.

“The old ‘Even The New Republic …’ scam was getting a little old in the 1980′s,” Mr. Hertzberg continued. “Now it’s a quarter of a century old.”

Mr. Kinsley, who also edited the magazine during two stints, from 1979 to 1981 and from 1985 to 1989, said that the taking-on-the-party positioning succeeded in winning attention for the magazine, but proved problematic over the longer haul.

” The New Republic got mileage out of being unpredictable,” said Mr. Kinsley, “But in my mind, being unpredictable meant being unreliable and inconsistent and lacking a general plan. I always thought there was virtue in being predictable. But they feel the opposite works.

“They’re really struggling to try and strike a balance between being critical of the administration and being internally critical of liberals,” Mr. Kinsley continued. “They see themselves as being critical from within. But that gets hard to pull off after about 30 years.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Beinart sees things a little differently. As a teenager growing up in Cambridge, Mass., Mr. Beinart, who began reading TNR in high school, admitted he felt the magazine was too conservative. Now, he said, he sees The New Republic ‘s stances not as too conservative, but as rooted in the magazine’s own idea of liberalism, which he believes has been consistent.

Lately, TNR ‘s focus has been on war with Iraq. At every turn, TNR has bashed the war’s Democratic detractors, including one Presidential hopeful, Senator John Kerry, and the boy who could do no wrong, Al Gore.

“I think the magazine has a pretty interesting role in the party,” Mr. Beinart said. “Right now, the Democratic Party is at sea. We have a definite vision. Not everyone likes it, but practically, if the Democratic Party only pursues military intervention like Kofi Annan wants to, the party will be dead for a generation. Morally, liberals need to recognize that to blindly oppose any American military power is a dangerous illusion. Power is the force that drives the world.

“We think we can argue very well and deeply for the war in our liberalism,” Mr. Beinart explained. “Without American power, liberalism doesn’t have a shot in the world. Who’s going to trust us otherwise? The French?”

The boss agreed. Mr. Peretz-who last year brought financiers Roger Hertog and Michael Steinhardt on board as investors, but remains involved in the magazine on a daily basis-said he felt the Democrats weren’t “rightly trusted” by the American people because they weren’t “comfortable dealing with defense, national security and foreign-policy issues. That’s the advantage that the Republicans have.

“The Democrats are also captives of the United Nations,” Mr. Peretz continued. “The notion that the United Nations, which has been a failure in every venture it’s undertaken, would bestow on American policy a ‘unique legitimacy’-as what’s-his-name, Kofi Annan, puts it-is preposterous. France, which has a permanent seat on the Security Council and veto power, has that veto power because Charles de Gaulle persuaded Churchill and Roosevelt that France actually fought the Nazis. The United Nations is fast expiring as a real force in the world, and as a positive force it expired long ago.”

Current and past TNR employees will tell you that these are the fun times. The Clinton-Gore era was a strange period for the magazine, and now they can go back to being the feisty kid in the corner of the party, as opposed to being the power broker at the center of the room. It can also be good for sales. As Mr. Kinsley noted: ” The New Republic did very well, business-wise, being the party in opposition.” Currently, the magazine has 70,000 subscribers.

Asked if the magazine’s fervent war position was a way of selling magazines, and of distancing itself from the liberal competition like The Nation , Mr. Peretz said: “We haven’t had any trouble differentiating ourselves from them in decades. The Nation is edited for aging ex-communists on the West Side. On the Upper West Side.”

Contacted for comment, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel told Off the Record: “I hope Mr. Peretz fact-checks his magazine better than his statements to the media.”

In August, the co-owners of SmartMoney -Hearst and Dow Jones-demoted editor in chief Peter Finch to editor, and put the magazine in the hands of Barron’s editor in chief Ed Finn, who became the magazine’s editor in chief and chairman (Mr. Finch has since left SmartMoney to work as a senior editor for Golf Digest and Golf World ).

Concerns about whether Mr. Finn might be a little distracted by running two magazines weren’t helped much when Mr. Finn announced in a Thursday, Feb. 13, e-mail that he’d fired the magazine’s longtime art director and replaced her with a Barron’s person, art director Pam Budz, who will split her time between the two publications.

“We are restructuring the art department at Smart Monday magazine,” Mr. Finn wrote in the first line of the memo, to more than a few guffaws.

“It’s not exactly a morale booster,” one SmartMoney source said of the typo.

Another staffer added: “Maybe our ad sales will pick up when we become Smart Monday .”

Mr. Finn was traveling on business and did not respond to request seeking comment.

In 1994, Argentine business consultant Jorge Martin Salimei said he was approached by executives of the International Herald Tribune about trying to open up opportunities in his country for the then joint venture of The New York Time s and The Washington Post .

Mr. Salimei claims he spent four years working with advertisers and local printers, distributors and papers to try and make a Herald Tribune presence in Argentina a reality. However, he says that in late 1998, the Herald Tribune cut off its contact with him, still owing him millions in unpaid expenses and compensation.

While the media marriage between The Post and The Time s may no longer exist ( The Times formally took full control of the Herald Tribune last month), Mr. Salimei still wants his money.

In papers filed the week of Feb. 10 in U.S. District Court, Mr. Salimei sued the Herald Tribune , The Times and The Post for $4.3 million.

The suit was originally filed in Argentina in 1999. In August 2002, a “neutral expert” appointed by an Argentine court after a two-and-a half-month inquiry determined that the IHT owed Mr. Salimei $940,700 for each of his four years of service, plus $582,000 in expenses. However, the court is still considering the expert’s findings, and Mr. Salimei has yet to receive any compensation.

Now Mr. Salimei’s suing in the U.S., and he fears that he won’t be able to collect any damages should the Times Company disband the Herald Tribun e in favor of an international edition of The Times .

Mr. Salimei told Off the Record that when he heard about The Times ‘ buyout of The Post in late October, “I was afraid of what was going to happen. I was afraid that I would receive a ruling in my favor and then discover that the IHT was a shell.”

A spokesperson for The New York Times said: “The suit has no merit. There is no basis for the relief he is seeking in the United States.”

If you just can’t get enough of that dreamy, cueball-esque photo of Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin each week, take heart.

After what one source familiar with the situation deemed a serious wooing by the folks at ESPN the Magazine , Mr. Rushin will soon re-up with the Time Inc. stalwart and onetime sneaker-phone king.

Mr. Rushin, who’s engaged to women’s basketball player Rebecca Lobo, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Likewise, SI managing editor Terry McDonell, and Mr. Rushin’s agent, Steve Mandell, both declined to comment.

Off the Record can be reached by e-mail at spappu @observer.com.