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Jewish World Review April 5, 1999 /19 Nissan 5759


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The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?

(JWR) ---- (
I WAS CATCHING UP ON FAXES IN PARIS and choked upon reading Alex Kuczynskiís poorly researched piece on The New Republic in the March 22 New York Times.

Kuczynski profiles the problematic political journal, ostensibly because of its upcoming "facelift," but does such a slipshod job you wonder if any Times editor in the business section really cares about media news.

For example, she writes: "The New Republic, a liberal opinion magazine owned by Martin Peretz, has not been redesigned for so long that no one there can remember the last time anyone changed anything, except maybe the masthead."

In fact, TNR had a major redesign just a decade ago, and faced the usual reader outrage because typefaces were changed and headlines made bolder.

On the whole, I thought, the magazine looked more attractive. I suppose itís possible that Kuczynski was busy attending keggers back in í89, but 10 years is not so long ago.

The March 10, 1989, Washington City Paper, under editor Jack Shaferís byline, critiqued TNRís new look. Shafer, now with his buddy Michael Kinsley at Slate, wrote then: "New Republic shivster Martin Peretz has wanted to redesign his magazine for five years. Fine, you say. He owns it. He bought it with his wifeís money. He can do what he wants.

"But things donít work that way at the New Republic. Ownership carries only a few privileges, like the right to endorse Albert Gore, Jr. for president or to advocate U.S. support for the contras or to denounce the Arab people as a bunch of savages... The cover is barely tolerable... It looks instantly dated and very Manhattan-provincial in that arch, prissy mid-80ís style that characterizes Seven Days, Spy, and the like.

Peretzís co-perpetrator in this design crime is the New York team of Drenttel Doyle Partners. They should be shot."

Kuczynski also gets the debut of the redesign wrongóitís April 26, not April 12óand never refers to former editor Michael Kelly by his first name.

Sloppy reporting.

Later in the week, Kuczynski told me, "[Current editor] Charles Lane told me he did not remember when the last redesign was, nor did his publisher, nor did Nancy Haberman, the publicist for the magazine at Rubenstein... Ms. Haberman confirmed for me that the date of new redesign was April 12."

But thatís just silly.

Danny Hellman
Why would TNR provide its new front page to the Times in March when theyíre not even sure what the subject would be? Odds are, a Times art director got his or her hands on a mock-up and just used that.

And itís not like TNR is undertaking anything daring: The designer is old-horse Roger Black, whoís called upon to spruce up every magazine in creation, and Iíd say is a little long in the tooth to produce an innovative new package.

But thatís Marty Peretz, who probably doesnít give a darn what the magazine looks like as long as the content pumps up Al Gore and leaves him enough room to ruminate on Israel. TNRís publisher, Will Lippincott, says the redesign will not be "fuddy-duddy. Itís going to be fresh and frisky," and is intended to boost advertising and newsstand sales.

I might be a dark cloud, but even if TNR is "frisky" on its cover, how is a four-color photo of a bombing in Kosovo going to compete with movie stars and models on the covers of all the magazines that compete for space at newsstands? Besides, p.r. hype notwithstanding, TNR has never been, and never will be, newsstand-driven.

Lane told me that Lippincott denied the silly "fresh and frisky line," although Kuczynski stands by the quote, saying, "I have my word-for-word notes from Mr. Lippincott, whom I greatly admire, and he did indeed say Ďfresh and frisky.í" Lippincott didnít get back to me.

Then thereís the matter of content. TNR isnít really liberal, as Kuczynski writes, at least not in the sense that The American Prospect or The New York Times is. She quotes Peretz about the firing of Kelly, saying that the terrific writer, who was TNRís editor for a short regime in the mid-90s, was an "obsessive right-winger. I made a disastrous mistake hiring him."

In fact, Kelly, now editor of The National Journal, comes from the traditional line of Democratic thought, say LBJ or Hubert Humphrey, and was simply morally disgusted by Clinton and Gore, and wrote as much in his "TRB" column in The New Republic. Heís hardly an "obsessive right-winger" and unless Peretz is completely daft, he knows that.

Kelly responded last Friday: "The right-wing obsessive quote is an old one, delivered during a phase of frothing dishonesty extreme even for Marty Peretz, after he got bad ink for his original semi-honest explanation for my firing (to wit, that I had written too many Clinton-Gore bashing columns and that I was too frequently insubordinateóthis latter charge a reference I suppose to my objections to Martyís mad King Ludwig efforts to bully and mistreat TNR employees)."

But the real problem with The New Republic canít be solved by gussying up its look: Itís correctly seen as a propaganda sheet for Gore and thus canít be taken seriously when the ownerís former protege is running for president. Lane has the gall to call the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, "a pamphlet," but thatís inaccurate. Has the Standard constantly promoted one candidate over the other? I have no idea who editor Bill Kristol will endorse: could be Bush, Quayle, Forbes or even McCain.

But TNR is in the tank with Gore and everyone knows it, despite the occasional nod to a wonk like Bill Bradley. Thatís why any TNR editor is working at a disadvantage: You canít mask propaganda with a "facelift."

Lane told me that the "pamphlet" remark came after Kuczynski read him a negative quote from Kristol, "so I was responding in the good old-fashioned friendly spirit of opinion mag competition... In any case, by pamphlet, I meant that the Standard is ideologically monochromatic, whereas TNR offers a wider range of views."

Although Iím a fan of The Weekly Standard (in fact, that publicationís Chris Caldwell writes a column for NYPress) I think Lane, in a tough job considering his owner, is somewhat delusional about the "wider range of views" his magazine offers. At TNR, you just know that the parameters on Gore and the Middle East are rigid and unbreakable, as (with the former) weíll be seeing in the next 18 months. Lane seems the weakest of Peretzís editors, although with the exception of Kelly, none of them has been particularly strong. Therefore, he seems the perfect man for this moment of the magazineís minimum impact and Peretzís maximum Lear-like nuttiness.

If the reports are true that Peretz speaks to Gore on a daily basis, thatís just another reason to hope the Veep self-destructs in the general election.

In addition, both Kelly (who admittedly is biased) and another Washington source told me that TNR is losing a lot more than the $500,000 annually that Kuczynski accepted at face value from Peretz. Lane had no comment on that.

Kelly says: "TNR has been having a dismal time for some years attracting subscribers and keeping them, to the point where its direct-mail drives have become wildly expensive in terms of number of subscribers netted. This cost is a major component of TNRís annual losses, which are a lot more than the $500,000 Marty claims."

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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©1999, Russ Smith