Reporter for a Fake Magazine
By Dennis Hans
On May 11, the same day the New York Times devoted
four pages to Jayson Blair's errors and deceptions, CBS's
60 Minutes devoted a segment to the Blair of the 1990s, Stephen
Glass of the New Republic (NR). But correspondent Steve
Kroft missed the really big story: The magazine Glass wrote
for is every bit as fraudulent as Glass himself.
We'll get to the NR shortly, but let's first consider Glass.
Here's his explanation
to Kroft as to how he created at the NR the appearance of
"I would tell a story, and there would be fact A, which
maybe was true. And then there would be fact B, which was
sort of partially true and partially fabricated. And there
would be fact C which was more fabricated and almost not true.
And there would be fact D, which was a complete whopper. And
totally not true. And so people would be with me on these
stories through fact A and through fact B. And so they would
believe me to C. And then at D they were still believing me
through the story."
That, said Kroft, is how Glass led his editors and readers
to believe, among other things, in the existence of "an evangelical
church that worshiped George Herbert Walker Bush." (I could
imagine a church springing up to worship Poppy Bush's super-endowed
flyboy son, Dub Diggler. He's built and strides like a god,
and he's free of all doubts. But Poppy never walked the god-like
walk nor talked the god-like talk.)
Glass went the extra mile to make his bogus sources seem
real, creating business cards, answering-machine messages
and even a website. But for all his confessions of phoniness,
the phoniest line of the segment belonged to Kroft, when he
called the NR "a distinguished magazine."
The "liberal" New Republic
Long before Glass walked through its doors, the NR was a
sordid, sleazy rag that was living not one lie, but two: the
pretense that it was (1) non-fiction and (2) liberal.
By "non-fiction," I'm thinking less of Glass and Ruth Shalit
(whose frequent ethical lapses - particularly plagiarism
- preceded Glass's) and more of the routine smears of human
rights groups and individuals who have the wrong take on foreign-policy
issues near and dear to the NR's neoconservative heart. That's
right, "neoconservative." Parts of the NR's head may be liberal,
moderate or conservative, but the heart is hard right.
The rightwing fanatics who dominate George W. Bush's foreign
policy team are cut from the same ideological cloth as longtime
NR owner (now co-owner) and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz.
It made perfect sense for Fox "All-Star" William Kristol to
team with the NR's Lawrence Kaplan for a recent book on the
U.S. and Iraq. They're peas in the same neocon pod.
As Eric Alterman documents in Sound and Furyand What
Liberal Media? (two excellent books that would be even
better if he either deleted or justified the snide potshots
he takes at radical journalist Alexander Cockburn), the cynical
pretense of NR personnel that they write for a "liberal" magazine
has helped to push public discourse far to the right. Most
of the media either believe or pretend to believe this nonsense,
and that has led to the marginalization of genuine liberals
while rendering progressives and leftists all but invisible.
Alterman asserts that "At least half of the 'liberal New
Republic' is actually a rabidly neoconservative magazine,"
edited in recent years by "Clinton/Gore hater Michael Kelly"
(who hated from the right) and by "the conservative liberal
hater Andrew Sullivan" (What Liberal Media? p. 10).
Sullivan himself, in a recent London Times essay reprinted
in the March 30 St. Petersburg Times, described the NR as
"neoconservative and neoliberal."
Neoliberals are considered closer to the center than old-school
liberals, while hot-to-bomb neocons are considered to the
right of old-school conservatives. So even if NR is a 50-50
neoliberal-neoconservative split, that equates to "right of
center," not "centrist," let alone "liberal." It's preposterous
to identify the NR by the single adjective "liberal."
Among the magazine's most famous alumni are four hard-boiled
reactionaries - Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Sullivan
and Kelly (who died covering the Iraq war). Morton Kondracke,
Fox All-Star and dispenser of right-of-center conventional
wisdom is another famous alum, as is self-described "wishy-washy
moderate" Michael Kinsley.
Kinsley's con and Beinart's bile
For years, Kinsley conned America from his co-hosting seat
on the CNN show "Crossfire," asserting nightly, "From the
left, I'm Michael Kinsley."
Kinsley, who served two stints as NR editor, isn't on the
left. He can't stand the left. Wishes it would go away. Until
recently he was editor of Slate, an often smart, generally
centrist online magazine that doesn't extend leftward beyond
moderate liberalism, though it often invites rightwingers
onto its cyberpages for dialogue and debate. Folks like Christopher
Buckley, Chris Caldwell and Jeffrey Goldberg. (Goldberg, a
New Yorker reporter not to be confused with Seymour Hersh,
is a Pentagon mouthpiece who helped pave the way for war on
Iraq with long articles reiterating the Gospel According to
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz - articles that carried great weight
because they appeared in the purportedly liberal New Yorker.)
Slate's approach to dialogue and debate is the same old center
vs. right formula as when Kinsley dueled Pat Buchanan on CNN.
That's a perfectly acceptable formula for Slate, which is
free to stake out its preferred ideological range. It's even
fine for a news channel with pretensions of fairness to pit
center vs. right - so long as the show is billed accurately
and the network airs other shows pitting center vs. left and
left vs. right. But there's plenty wrong with spouting a slogan
that marginalizes anyone to the left of your wishy-washy-moderate
The current NR editor, Peter Beinart, occupies ideological
space somewhere between moderate Kinsley and rightist Sullivan.
Naturally, he's entitled to a weekly seat on CNN's Late Edition
as a "liberal," where he and Gore-backer Donna Brazile (who
leans a tad left on domestic issues and a tad right on foreign
policy) square off against two proud righties, former Gingrich
aide Robert George and National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg.
Memo to Wolf Blitzer: That's not "balance." Since you have
four seats to fill, why not invite a lefty, a moderate liberal,
a moderate conservative and a righty?
Beinart, to his credit, has condemned Bush administration
deceit on tax cuts and the pre-war propaganda blitz for a
war that Beinart himself supported. To his shame, since 9-11
he's walked a beat as a McCarthyite cop of the Patriotism
Police. Like Bill Bennett, Sean Hannity and Andrew Sullivan,
he stands ready to slime anyone he deems insufficiently patriotic.
He smeared the National Education Association as soft on Islamic
fundamentalist terrorists. Even after real-liberal Robert
Kuttner exposed the dishonesty behind the slander, which had
been concocted by a Washington Times hack, Beinart spread
that nonsense. Read about his disgraceful performance in Bob
Howler. Then ask yourself, Why is this guy representing
Death-squad "liberals" in print and on the tube
Back in the 1980s, the NR loved Reagan's foreign policy.
The magazine's editorials, often penned by Krauthammer, led
the cheers for such Reagan-backed torturers and murderers
as the Nicaraguan contras, the Salvadoran army and Jonas Savimbi's
UNITA rebels in Angola. Neocon guest columnists such as Jeane
Kirkpatrick, Edward Luttwak, Irving Kristol (William's father),
Michael Ledeen, Kenneth Adelman extolled the virtues of counterinsurgency
and big-ticket weapons systems.
The NR did run occasional articles critical of U.S. support
for Central American cutthroats; I recall some fine pieces
by Jefferson Morley. But the steady supportive drumbeat was
provided by Krauthammer, Barnes, Kondracke and the guest writers,
while the institutional voice was provided mainly by Krauthammer.
Morley's pieces were actually counterproductive to his liberal
goals, because (1) the existence of a liberal faction contributed
to the myth that the NR was indeed liberal, and (2) Morley
did not represent the NR on the tube, where its impact is
The NR, despite its high profile, has a low circulation
(85,000 according to Alterman, while the Nation magazine,
with its mix of liberals, progressives and radicals, is at
122,000). The disproportionate influence of the NR stems from
its role as a major source of supposedly liberal talking heads.
For two decades it has usurped air time from genuine liberals
and lefties by sending editors from the center, center-right
and right to represent a purportedly liberal magazine. Today,
Beinart is trodding that well-worn path.
Anyone who doesn't think it's a scam will have to explain
why George Will is so keen on Beinart and wanted him to fill
the pretend-liberal seat on ABC's "This Week," and why Will
is a NR cheerleader of longstanding. No magazine that liberals
consider liberal would have been hailed by Will in 1987 as
"the nation's most interesting and most important political
journal" (quoted in Alterman, Sound and Fury, p. 179).
The NR in black and white (but mostly white)
There was a wonderful spat back in1995 between "the liberal
New Republic" and "the liberal Washington Post."
(To be fair to the Post, its ludicrous "liberal" label
is not self-designated.) The NR's Ruth Shalit penned a long,
critical essay on the Post's affirmative-action program,
drawing conclusions that delighted NR editors: The Post
goes easy on the city's black-run government and downplays
rampant black crime; mediocre black journalists land jobs
and promotions at the Post over better-qualified whites.
(Hey Ruth, the Post has a history of passing over highly
qualified whites. But the mediocre beneficiaries are typically
white and leaning right: Bob Woodward, Meg Greenfield, Fred
Hiatt, Howard Kurtz, Michael Kelly, Katharine Graham and Graham's
kids, Donald and Lally.)
The Post reacted strongly to Shalit's report, documenting
plagiarized passages and dozens of errors. Post honcho
Donald Graham even suggested
the NR change its motto to "Looking for a qualified black
Best line of the spat, but is it fair? Although the "liberal
NR" seems never to have had a single black staff writer in
its "distinguished" history, it has trumpeted the work of
a very special brand of black intellectual: the kind that
either has no black friends or intends to achieve that status
by what he writes in the NR.
Gents like Shelby Steele, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury.
Bootstrap blacks. Blacks who have risen high and fast on their
"merits" - that is, on their ability to eloquently deliver
a message that their conservative white patrons are eager
to trumpet: Affirmative action is both bad public policy and
a curse for black people - especially for super-smart guys
like us (Steele, McWhorter and Loury). That's because no matter
what we and other blacks achieve, some white colleagues and
co-workers will always suspect we couldn't have scaled such
heights without a step ladder provided for blacks only. So
please, all you guilty white liberals, stop burdening us with
Some might think it odd that the "liberal" NR's favorite
black scholars all have (or had, in Loury's case) prestigious
seats at conservative or neocon think tanks: the Hoover Institution
(Steele), the Manhattan Institute (McWhorter) and the American
Enterprise Institute (Loury). After all, the conservative
National Review and neocon Weekly Standard don't look to the
progressive Institute for Policy Studies or the liberal Campaign
for America's Future for insights on the issues of the day.
Conservative magazines prefer to ignore, criticize or villify
thinkers at liberal and leftwing think tanks rather than provide
them a platform.
NR's search for a Great Black Hope
For a generally sympathetic account of Loury's long, strange
trip from neocon darling to disillusioned moderate, see Adam
in the January 20, 2002 New York Times Magazine. Here's
a telling taste:
"Word of the brilliant, contrarian black economist from
the South Side of Chicago traveled fast. Conservative magazines
solicited articles from him; The New Republic published
his thoughts on race under the title 'A New American Dilemma.'
He befriended William Bennett and William Kristol, his colleague
at the Kennedy School. He sat at President Reagan's table
at a White House dinner, and he socialized with Clarence Thomas.
(Although the two no longer speak, Loury still keeps a picture
in his office of himself with Thomas.) While his liberal colleagues
were boycotting South Africa, Loury traveled there in 1986
on a trip financed by the white diamond magnate Harry Oppenheimer."
In 1987, chain-smoking poker player and Secretary of Education
Bennett asked Loury to be under secretary of education. Alas,
Loury had to decline his friend's offer. He really wasn't
suited for a high-profile, role-model job, seeing as he was
a coke fiend who was cheating on his wife with a 23-year-old
college graduate he had put up in a love nest.
Years later, Loury began to realize that much (not all)
of the conservative movement didn't give a rat's ass about
black people. He split with the AEI over its promotion of
race baiters Charles Murray and Dinesh D'Souza. Murray's book
The Bell Curve, co-authored by Richard Hernstein and
funded by rightwing think tanks, postulates that black America's
relatively low socio-economic status is because the average
black I.Q. is 15 points lower than the average white I.Q.,
which can't be altered no matter how many affirmative action
laws bleeding-heart liberals enact, so why bother?
That message was music to the NR's ears, and it granted
Murray a whopping 10,000 words to make his case, while editor
Sullivan and editor-in-chief Peretz wrote sympathetic columns
(see What Liberal Media?, pp. 94-103). Coming from
a purported "liberal" magazine, the NR seal of approval was
invaluable in legitimizing and rendering respectable notions
that long ago had been discredited and branded beyond the
pale. Months after the initial splash, serious scholars exposed
the shoddy thinking and suspect sources upon which The
Bell Curve is based - but not before the NR had helped
to push the race-issues center of gravity far to the right.
As for Loury, he eventually made amends with relatives and
other black former friends who had branded him a sellout.
These days, he's more of a confused, soul-searching centrist
on race issues, and NR "contributing editor" McWhorter has
taken over as the magazine's Great Black Hope.
In the latest display of the NR's trademark racial sensitivity,
editor Beinart has launched a campaign calling on Democrats
to "shun" and "disown" controversial black presidential candidate
Al Sharpton. That campaign, Sridhar Pappu reports
in the New York Observer, is part of an exciting NR
makeover. A publicist is spreading the news, "calling up reporters,
touting a hot new redesign and bragging that the magazine
is getting 'daring' and 'more conservative.'" This is all
part of what Beinart maintains is the NR's "liberalism."
The NR's Great Arab-American Hope
Fouad Ajami is to Arab-Americans what Steele and McWhorter
are to African-Americans: the guy who will tell Martin Peretz
exactly what he wants to hear. The problem with Ajami is the
same as with the NR's Great Black Hopes: His own people tune
Two excellent journalists, Salon's Eric
Boehlertand the Nation's Adam
Shatz, have written at length about Ajami's media role.
Their articles provide ample substantiation for my own uneasy
feelings about Ajami, which had been based largely on his
Even though many Arab-American scholars and analysts agree
with a good deal of Ajami's critique, they can't stomach the
guy because they don't think he's fair. A common perception
is that Ajami observes Arab regimes and the assorted Palestinian
leaders and movements with a justifiably jaundiced eye, but
he views the Israeli and U.S. governments through rose-colored
glasses - and thus minimizes their contribution to the mess
that is the Middle East.
Worse, he's gained access and fame by pandering to his patrons,
who know that their views will carry greater weight if presented
by an Arab face. Those patrons, writes Shatz, are "Laurence
Tisch, former chairman of CBS; Mort Zuckerman, the owner of
US News & World Report; Martin Peretz, a co-owner of
The New Republic; and Leslie Gelb, head of the Council
on Foreign Relations."
"Much of the American media knows what it wants to hear
and it's very reassured to hear confirmation of received wisdom,"
Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination told
Boehlert. "Since the  Gulf War, Fouad has taken leave
of his analytic perspective to play to his elite constituency,"
Boston University Middle East scholar Augustus Richard Norton
told Shatz. "It's very unfortunate because he could have made
an astonishingly important contribution."
Ajami is just about the last person a fair-minded media
executive would select if he had room for only one Arab-American
Middle East expert. He'd be tolerable as one of several such
experts, but because he's not remotely representative of Arab-American
thinking or of scholars in Arab and Muslim studies, he's all
wrong as the expert.
A genuinely liberal magazine would want to make household
names of Arab-American Middle East experts who are respected
by their colleagues and are eager to promote peace and security
for Israelis and Palestinians, as well as democratization
within Arab societies. The New Republic - and Steve
Kroft's bosses at CBS - prefer the polarizing figure of Fouad
Re-branding the "liberal New Republic"
I don't think liberals should "shun" or "disown" the New
Republic. But I do think it needs to pay a price for misrepresenting
itself as liberal, given the disastrous consequences for actual
liberals that continue to this day, and for poisoning relations
among core Democratic Party constituencies.
Granted, the NR generally supports Democratic candidates
over Republicans, but given its divisive role within the party,
why not stick the NR with the political label "divisively
Democratic"? As for an ideological label, given that it has
spent the last 20 years exaggerating its orientation in a
leftward direction, for the next 20 years let's stick it with
a moniker that exaggerates in the opposite direction: "the
extreme right-wing New Republic."
Come the year 2023, given good behavior by the editors and
appropriate expressions of remorse over its deceptive past,
it can begin an honest life with an accurate label: "the lilywhite,
center-right, divisively Democratic New Republic."
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses
in mass communications and American foreign policy at the
University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Click
here to read his stunning essay "Lying Us Into War: Exposing
Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'" - published several weeks
before the start of the recent war. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.