Burying the Weekly Standard

Although I didn’t care for the Weekly Standard for reasons other than those given by President Trump, I admit that I disliked this now-defunct fortnightly as intensely as he did. When a Canadian friend discovered it was about to close, he asked me in an email “What do you want for the other seven days of Hanukah?” This friend was right that I was relieved to see the magazine disappear even if I didn’t regard it, like the President, as “dishonest and pathetic.” Rather I viewed it as an utterly superfluous appendage of the neoconservative empire, which didn’t contribute anything new to our political debate that other, well-subsidized neoconservative organs weren’t already saying. I was amused to learn that the leftist Vox website regrets the loss of a publication that stood up for conservative principles. Vox’s editors fear that “an era of conservative media is over,” and they quote WS contributor Charles Sykes about how “an independent and honest” voice of conservatism has been stilled.  I suppose “independent” for Sykes and Vox means promoting the “#NeverTrump” campaign. But even in that department Weekly Standard was not particularly original.  Its editors would have had to compete for the honor of dumping on Trump, supposedly from the right, with Rich Lowry, Kevin Williamson, Ron Dreher, Ben Shapiro, David French and about half of the Allstars and news commentators on Fox News.

An obvious reason for the growing disfavor in which subscribers and funders came to view the magazine was the extent to which certain of its key figures, e.g., Max Boot, John Podhoretz, and above all Bill Kristol, unleashed their anti-Trump animus. Kristol and Boot are regularly on CNN bashing the Prez, while Podhoretz, a cofounder with Kristol of the magazine, expresses his anti-Trump bile in op-ed pieces for another neoconservative publication, the New York Post.  WS may have been set up as an object of activity for two princes of neocon royal lineage, the way medieval kings accorded principalities and estates to their progeny in order to keep them occupied.

But the magazine yielded another advantage for those whose careers were intertwined with it. It gave an affiliation to news commentators on Fox, who were repeatedly introduced as working for the Weekly Standard. I notice that Ron Dreher, who is the leading blogger for the American Conservative, recalls fondly his signal honor in having been allowed to write for the Weekly Standard. In some Washington circles this fortnightly has cachet, owing perhaps to the fact its editors and contributors get on to TV with some regularity.

The few times I forced myself to read through issues I found the contents to be formaldehyde. Not because they were badly written, but because the views offered were entirely predictable. As a modern European historian, I could predict the slant of anything that would appear in my field in the Weekly Standard. Germans and Russians were always the fall guys, no matter what the subject. Treatments of World War I, which was a complex struggle with many villains, looked like propaganda that came out of the English foreign office circa 1917. (Contrary to the WS party line, there really were two guilty sides in that disaster.) Although hardly a dove on questions of national defense, sometimes I found the magazine to be downright belligerent. There is a difference between wanting to protect one’s country and trying to unload our latest democratic model on the unwilling. I doubt the editors understood this difference. And while I’m no fan of some of the more puerile things tweeted by Trump, I also recognize that on the whole he’s been an effective chief executive. That is certainly not the impression that one received from the Weekly Standard’s NeverTrumpers.  John Nolte, writing in Breitbart, is spot-on in his description of them as sanctimonious social climbers tirelessly virtue-signaling their hatred of Trump to the rest of the anti-Trump media community.

Matthew Yglesias tells us that “the future of this venerable conservative magazine is in doubt for the sin of being anti-Trump.” No, it collapsed because its funders lost patience with their investment. Rupert Murdoch carried the publication generously for fourteen years and Philip Anschutz for another nine, by which time it became apparent that Yglesias’ “right-wing fat cats” refused to go on financing a Pink Elephant, for telling us what other media outlets are already telling us. Allow me to vent my personal grievance. For over thirty years I have sought funding for an enterprise comparable to Bill Kristol’s on behalf of the independent Right. I am already an old man and have still not succeeded and it’s unlikely that I’ll achieve my goal in the years that remain to me. Not surprisingly, Kristol and his friends never gave me a voice of any kind. They differed with me on what “conservatism” should be and worked to keep me out of their conversation. Reading about how their magazine failed, I won’t deny that I felt some Schadenfreude. But more importantly, I think it may be time to hear other, less conformist voices on the right.        

Although I didn’t care for the Weekly Standard for reasons other than those given by President Trump, I admit that I disliked this now-defunct fortnightly as intensely as he did. When a Canadian friend discovered it was about to close, he asked me in an email “What do you want for the other seven days of Hanukah?” This friend was right that I was relieved to see the magazine disappear even if I didn’t regard it, like the President, as “dishonest and pathetic.” Rather I viewed it as an utterly superfluous appendage of the neoconservative empire, which didn’t contribute anything new to our political debate that other, well-subsidized neoconservative organs weren’t already saying. I was amused to learn that the leftist Vox website regrets the loss of a publication that stood up for conservative principles. Vox’s editors fear that “an era of conservative media is over,” and they quote WS contributor Charles Sykes about how “an independent and honest” voice of conservatism has been stilled.  I suppose “independent” for Sykes and Vox means promoting the “#NeverTrump” campaign. But even in that department Weekly Standard was not particularly original.  Its editors would have had to compete for the honor of dumping on Trump, supposedly from the right, with Rich Lowry, Kevin Williamson, Ron Dreher, Ben Shapiro, David French and about half of the Allstars and news commentators on Fox News.

An obvious reason for the growing disfavor in which subscribers and funders came to view the magazine was the extent to which certain of its key figures, e.g., Max Boot, John Podhoretz, and above all Bill Kristol, unleashed their anti-Trump animus. Kristol and Boot are regularly on CNN bashing the Prez, while Podhoretz, a cofounder with Kristol of the magazine, expresses his anti-Trump bile in op-ed pieces for another neoconservative publication, the New York Post.  WS may have been set up as an object of activity for two princes of neocon royal lineage, the way medieval kings accorded principalities and estates to their progeny in order to keep them occupied.

But the magazine yielded another advantage for those whose careers were intertwined with it. It gave an affiliation to news commentators on Fox, who were repeatedly introduced as working for the Weekly Standard. I notice that Ron Dreher, who is the leading blogger for the American Conservative, recalls fondly his signal honor in having been allowed to write for the Weekly Standard. In some Washington circles this fortnightly has cachet, owing perhaps to the fact its editors and contributors get on to TV with some regularity.

The few times I forced myself to read through issues I found the contents to be formaldehyde. Not because they were badly written, but because the views offered were entirely predictable. As a modern European historian, I could predict the slant of anything that would appear in my field in the Weekly Standard. Germans and Russians were always the fall guys, no matter what the subject. Treatments of World War I, which was a complex struggle with many villains, looked like propaganda that came out of the English foreign office circa 1917. (Contrary to the WS party line, there really were two guilty sides in that disaster.) Although hardly a dove on questions of national defense, sometimes I found the magazine to be downright belligerent. There is a difference between wanting to protect one’s country and trying to unload our latest democratic model on the unwilling. I doubt the editors understood this difference. And while I’m no fan of some of the more puerile things tweeted by Trump, I also recognize that on the whole he’s been an effective chief executive. That is certainly not the impression that one received from the Weekly Standard’s NeverTrumpers.  John Nolte, writing in Breitbart, is spot-on in his description of them as sanctimonious social climbers tirelessly virtue-signaling their hatred of Trump to the rest of the anti-Trump media community.

Matthew Yglesias tells us that “the future of this venerable conservative magazine is in doubt for the sin of being anti-Trump.” No, it collapsed because its funders lost patience with their investment. Rupert Murdoch carried the publication generously for fourteen years and Philip Anschutz for another nine, by which time it became apparent that Yglesias’ “right-wing fat cats” refused to go on financing a Pink Elephant, for telling us what other media outlets are already telling us. Allow me to vent my personal grievance. For over thirty years I have sought funding for an enterprise comparable to Bill Kristol’s on behalf of the independent Right. I am already an old man and have still not succeeded and it’s unlikely that I’ll achieve my goal in the years that remain to me. Not surprisingly, Kristol and his friends never gave me a voice of any kind. They differed with me on what “conservatism” should be and worked to keep me out of their conversation. Reading about how their magazine failed, I won’t deny that I felt some Schadenfreude. But more importantly, I think it may be time to hear other, less conformist voices on the right.