November 11, 2005

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A relevant article from the Nov. 21st issue of The American Conservative:

The Weekly Standard’s War

Murdoch’s mag stands athwart history yelling, “Attack!”
By Scott McConnell

As the Weekly Standard celebrates its 10th birthday, it may be time to ask whether America has ever seen a more successful political magazine. Many have been more widely read, profitable, amusing, or brilliant. But in terms of actually changing the world and shaping the course of history, what contemporary magazine rivals the Standard? Even if you believe that the change has been much for the worse, the Standard’s record of success in its own terms is formidable.

At the time of the Standard’s founding in 1995, there was considerable speculation among neoconservatives over whether the movement had run its course. In “Neoconservatism: A Eulogy,” Norman Podhoretz argued that neoconservatism had effectively put itself out of business by winning on its two major battle fronts: over communism and the residue of the 1960s counterculture. In the process, it had injected itself into the main body of American conservatism to such a degree that it was no longer particularly distinct from it. The eulogy was not a lamentation, more an appreciation of a job well done.

But while there was something to the Podhoretz argument, the American Right in 1995 did not have a neoconnish feel. Newt Gingrich and the new Congress were the center of gravity; Rush Limbaugh was a far more important figure than Bill Kristol; the issues that most agitated the Right, gays in the military and Whitewater, were either the province of religious and social conservatives or committed Republican partisans.

On other national issues, neocons were either uncertain or not on the cutting edge. Charles Murray’s 1994 bestseller The Bell Curve, which argued that IQ was hereditarily based and was increasingly and ineluctably correlated with career success and life outcomes, was the most discussed and controversial book on the Right, but neocons were split over whether to distance themselves from it or quietly embrace at least some of its analyses. Immigration, already an issue of intense popular concern in California, was a key cause for National Review, the oldest and most popular magazine on the Right. But most neoconservatives deplored the immigration-reform impulse, with many claiming to see in it an echo of the restrictionists of the 1920s, whose legislation had the (obviously unintended) result of closing America’s door to Jewish refugees a decade later.

Foreign policy, which had been a prime unifier of the Right during the Cold War, was on the back burner. Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary had been waging a lonely battle against the Oslo peace process (a track leading to a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank), but its position was very much in the minority among both foreign-affairs experts and American Jews. In the quarterlies, foreign-policy specialists debated America’s role in the post-Cold War world, but it was hard for most newspaper readers to keep up with obscure struggles on the Balkans or complicated debate about NATO expansion. America, it seemed, had no real enemies. Thus in 1995, it could be rightly claimed that the original neoconservative movement had spawned a successor generation, even two. But it was not clear what that generation’s role would be, if any.

Enter the Weekly Standard—edited principally by William Kristol, a genial and sharp son of an eminent neoconservative family—which arrived on the scene thanks to a $3 million annual subsidy from Rupert Murdoch. It is not always understood beyond the world of journalism that political opinion magazines almost invariably lose money—sometimes a lot of it. The deficits are usually made up by their owners and subscribers’ contributions, some quite substantial. Commentary was supported for most of its life by the American Jewish Committee and now has a publication committee of formidably wealthy people. William F. Buckley’s National Review always had angels; Buckley once answered a query about when his magazine would be profitable by saying, “You don’t expect the Church to make a profit, do you?” The venerable Nation, at the time of the Standard’s founding, had an annual deficit of roughly $500,000, made up by owner Arthur Carter. The prestigious Atlantic Monthly reportedly loses between $4 and $8 million a year.

That said, while the Standard’s reported subsidy was gigantic for a small ideological niche magazine, if Rupert Murdoch’s purpose was to make things happen in Washington and in the world, he could not have leveraged it better. One could spend 10 times that much on political action committees without achieving anything comparable...

The subsidy Murdoch accorded the Standard assured the new venture would be highly visible by the standards of start-up political magazines. It could afford a wide newsstand presence: it is costly for any new magazine to print issues that will in most cases not be sold. The Standard not only passed out thousands of complimentary issues around Washington, it had them personally delivered to Beltway influentials as soon as they were printed. Above all, the new journal provided employment for a small coterie of neoconservative essayists and a ready place to publish for dozens of apparatchiks who held posts at the American Enterprise Institute and other neocon-friendly think tanks.

With the fledgling Fox News network, the Standard soon emerged as the key leg in a synergistic triangle of neoconservative argumentation: you could write a piece for the magazine, talk about your ideas on Fox, pick up a paycheck from Kristol or from AEI. It was not a way to get rich, but it sustained a network of careers that might otherwise have shriveled or been diverted elsewhere. Indeed, it did more than sustain them, it gave neocons an aura of being “happening” inside the Beltway that no other conservative (or liberal) faction could match. Murdoch had refuted the otherwise plausible arguments in Norman Podhoretz’s eulogy...

Without the Weekly Standard, would the invasion of Iraq taken place? It’s impossible to know. Without the Standard, other voices—including those of the realist foreign-policy establishment, which had been dominant in the first Bush administration and which opposed a precipitous campaign against Saddam—would have been on a more level playing field with the neocons. That would have made a difference.

So in a sense the Iraq War is Bill Kristol’s War as much as it is George W. Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s, and the Standard is the vehicle that made it possible. [More]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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