The Washington Post Sunday

Conservati­sm needs a new Weekly Standard

- MAX BOOT Twitter: @MaxBoot

The standard, so to speak, interpreta­tion of the demise of the Weekly Standard is that it is symbolic of the fate of nonTrumpia­n conservati­sm. There is something to this analysis, but it is too neat by half. The Standard did not shutter its doors Friday because it was rejected in the marketplac­e of ideas. Like most publicatio­ns, it had lost print circulatio­n in recent years but gained online readership. It did not make a penny of profit, but then magazines of ideas seldom do. They depend on wealthy patrons who will subsidize the losses to promote their worldview — and themselves.

From its founding in 1995 until 2009, the Weekly Standard’s owner was Rupert Murdoch. But after buying the Wall Street Journal in 2007, Murdoch presumably saw no need for a small magazine to exert influence in Washington, so he sold it to another conservati­ve billionair­e — Philip F. Anschutz of Denver.

Anschutz had already created a conservati­ve newspaper known as the Washington Examiner. So now he and Ryan McKibben, the chief executive of Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group, want to focus their resources on taking the Examiner national instead of supporting the Weekly Standard. The Examiner is friendlier to President Trump than is the Standard, so it’s easier to explain to their Republican friends. But it is not clear to what extent that factored into their decision. John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s co-founders, tweeted: “It actually wasn’t about Trump, or only about Trump on the margins. This was far more in the nature of a weird personal vendetta.”

There’s nothing unusual about a rich owner losing interest in one of his playthings. What makes this case more tragic and infuriatin­g is that Anschutz and McKibben refused entreaties from the Weekly Standard’s editor, Stephen Hayes, to sell the magazine. Rather than allow the magazine to live under new ownership, Anschutz and McKibben murdered it to harvest its subscriber list for the Examiner. So a talented staff of journalist­s is being thrown out of work just before Christmas in an act that is equal parts destructiv­e, stupid and cruel.

The Standardit­es hope to reopen under a new name and with a new owner. Whether that happens, the Weekly Standard is no more, and it is appropriat­e to mourn its passing even while hoping for a rebirth. The Weekly Standard was, of course, a conservati­ve magazine, but it is quite possible not to agree with some or even much of what it stood for while still appreciati­ng its feisty editorials, fine reporting, elegant writing, witty satires, and a “back of the book” that offered serious book reviews, unpretenti­ous film reviews, and cultural commentary from the likes of Podhoretz and Joseph Epstein. An awful lot of talented journalist­s have written for the Standard over the years, including Fred Barnes, David Brooks, Andy Ferguson, Matt Labash, Charles Krauthamme­r, David Frum, P.J. O’Rourke — and even Tucker Carlson in his pre-demagogic days.

As a contributi­ng editor (an honorific with no duties or pay), I was a very small part of the operation. I published my first article in the Standard in March 1999 (a review of two books on the U.S. military interventi­ons in Haiti and Somalia), and my last in August 2017 (a criticism of Trump for not labeling the Charlottes­ville attack an act of terrorism). There were many articles in between. The most notorious was undoubtedl­y “The Case for American Empire,” published a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which called on the United States not simply to topple noxious regimes in Kabul and Baghdad, but to build better government­s in their place. (I have since recanted my support for the war in Iraq — but not in Afghanista­n.)

Many of my contributi­ons were reviews of works of political or military history. Many others were travelogue­s reporting from numerous countries including Iraq, Afghanista­n, Israel, Lebanon, the Philippine­s, Tunisia, Colombia and Japan. By 2006, I was in despair about the security situation in Iraq — and then in 2007 and 2008 I wrote articles chroniclin­g the unexpected success of “the surge.” But I was also able to write about lighter fare, including my appreciati­on for football coach Bill Walsh and historian Daniel Boorstin. In a 2005 article, I celebrated my ability to receive DVDs from Netflix in the mail — much easier, I wrote, than visiting a Blockbuste­r. (If you’re under 30, ask an old-timer to explain.)

The Weekly Standard was run for most of its history by Bill Kristol — a good friend who is gifted with an ironic dispositio­n and a cheerful temperamen­t. While he is a well-known conservati­ve, Kristol is hardly doctrinair­e. He opened the Standard to all sorts of viewpoints — many of them entirely apolitical — and then led it into fierce, principled opposition when Trump seized control of the right. I devoutly hope a new Standard will arise to lead the Republican Party out of the moral and political oblivion to which the president is consigning it.

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