The New Republic's Dirty Secret
The demise of the New Republic, a small-circulation weekly magazine with potent political influence far greater than its reach, is emblematic of publishing reality in the age of the internet. It also represents a case study of how close Soviet communists infiltrated American public opinion.
The reliably liberal Democrat mouthpiece, founded in 1914 by Whitney family money and columnist and Washington Mandarin Walter Lippmann (advertised since the JFK presidency as “the in-flight magazine for Air Force One”) was recently purchased from former Harvard professor Martin Peretz, who bought the magazine in 1974. Peretz was accused of racism against Arabs for his strong backing of Israel and other positions that irritated one faction or the other in the Democratic Party. He sold out in 2012 to high-tech billionaire Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook. Uncomfortable owning a company with unruly and independent-minded writer types, Hughes first replaced the editor with a “digital” innovator, who was directed to jerk TNR into the modern age by following the model of the Atlantic. Obviously, the effort failed.
The Atlantic (founded in 1857 by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others) was able to survive, and eventually flourish, by hiring the digital publishing innovator Scott Havens – now working his magic to turn around Time – who saved the Atlantic’s print edition by making it one of several publishing “platforms.” In this scenario, the physical magazine became merged with three or four new Atlantic websites. In other words, advertisers and subscribers purchase the whole package, with enough revenue diverted to the print side to keep the paper product going.
The New Republic has represented the policies and disagreements within the Democratic Party but also serves as an example of communist influence in the media, an association Democrats can’t shake. Michael Whitney Straight (son of co-founder Willard Straight) was publisher of TNR from 1948 to 1956. Though an American, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge in the mid-1930s, where he was recruited by the KGB at the same time the infamous Cambridge “moles” signed up to spy for the USSR – and went on to create perhaps the most sensational spy scandal in history.
Straight’s communism and his KGB work have remained obscure due to his decision to repudiate his Soviet ties by of exposing Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt, the so-called 4th Man out of five known members of the ring. The most famous of the Magnificent 5, as the KGB called them, included the suave Kim Philby – who penetrated to the top echelons of the British Secret Intelligence Service (and the American post-war CIA, serving as liaison between SIS and the “cousins,” as the British called their U.S. spy counterparts). Other members of the ring included Donald Maclean, who infiltrated the Foreign Office; gay bon vivant Guy Burgess, who flitted from various embassy posts and a stint with the BBC; and John Cairncross, who was not exposed until 1990.
Straight alleged in his 1993 book After Long Silence that he never shared secrets with the KGB. However, in 2000, the KGB released files indicating that Straight had passed on telegrams, reports, and position papers to his Soviet handlers while employed with the State Department, a job he landed via President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later, Straight convinced JFK to appoint him as vice chairman of the Advisory Council on the Arts, which led to an FBI check and his deal to turn in Blunt – who was not prosecuted in lieu of a full confession.
Despite attempts by The New Republic to laugh off Straight’s KGB affiliation, the most important journal of the left was owned for nearly a decade by a bona fide communist who, despite his protestations to the contrary, had not changed his allegiance to the Soviet Union.