Today, The New Republic announces that Marty Peretz, who has been editor-in-chief of the magazine for 37 years, will become editor-in-chief emeritus. In addition, he will move from writing his blog, The Spine, to writing a column for the website. Marty’s stewardship of The New Republic has been the liveliest and the most intellectually consequential in the long history of the magazine. Though he will no longer be at the top of the masthead, he will remain in the thick of things. Below are some thoughts from Marty:
I have been with The New Republic going on 37 years, almost all of them with the title of editor-in-chief. The truth is that I hardly ever actually edited an article for the magazine. But, frankly, it was my vision—and the vision of my compatriots—of what was needed for a serious journal of opinion in American society that defined what TNR has become since 1974.
The editors and staff we assembled constitute a marvel of American journalism, a long magic moment of intelligence, moral seriousness, responsible politics … and, forgive me, a deep concern for the national interest. Sometimes we quarreled with our readers and often amongst ourselves. And the truth is that there were a few occasions—very few, actually—in which, as proprietor of the publication, I exercised the prerogative of firing someone. But there was only one occasion when I kept an article from being published. From today’s perspective my reluctance to print something on Ted Kennedy’s sex life may seem too precious or finicky. Still, I think it was the correct judgment. Let others traffic in such trash.
So I endured hundreds and maybe thousands of pieces which I believed to be ethically flawed, historically wrong, politically foolish. History, in whatever ways history does these chores, will ultimately sort it all out. I dare say that I have tested the patience of some of my staff with more than a few of my articles and perhaps The Spine almost in its entirety. As errants go, however, they’ve flourished at least as much as I have.
Alex Pareene at Salon:
For those still wondering about the fate of Muslim-hating erstwhile New Republic owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz, they’ve finally made an official announcement: He is now the “editor-in-chief emeritus.” Marty never actually edited the magazine — though he hired and fired editors — but his title and ownership of the magazine allowed him to write first his regular columns and then “The Spine,” his dyspeptic blog. It is the blog that got him in trouble, which just revealed that no one ever read his print column.
And so, according to a recent New York magazine profile of Peretz, they were going to make him stop blogging. Except he kept blogging. And that is because, according to a slightly more recent New York Times Magazine profile of Peretz, he just refused to stop.
Multiple New Republic staff members told me that The Spine would soon be replaced by a rigorously edited weekly Peretz column. In Tel Aviv, Peretz laughed at the thought.
“That’s not going to happen,” Peretz said.
Now, that is going to happen. Sort of. Mostly. “In addition” to the new column, anonymous New Republic editors write, “he will move from writing his blog, The Spine, to writing a column for the website.”
Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:
New Republic owner Marty Peretz, who has been much-profiled of late, has admitted he really hasn’t been editing the magazine for years now. (He lives in Israel, for one thing.) And now he’ll officially pass his editor-in-chief title on to Richard Just, who has been serving as editor since Franklin Foer left last month. “I have been with The New Republic going on 37 years, almost all of them with the title of editor-in-chief,” Peretz wrote in a farewell note, according to Keith Kelly. “The truth is that I hardly ever actually edited an article for the magazine. But, frankly, it was my vision and the vision of my compatriots of what was needed for a serious journal of opinion in American society that defined what TNR has become since 1974.” Peretz will continue to write a column for the website, which means his departure as titular E-i-C may not actually be a relief for anybody at the magazine.
John Cook at Gawker:
Martin Peretz is an obscenely wealthy moral cripple who owns the New Republic. His penchant for spouting ethnic slurs against Arabs recently earned him two lengthy and intense magazine profiles. Neither one saw fit to report that he is gay.
It’s an open secret in Washington, D.C., that Peretz, who came to own the New Republic after marrying Anne Labouisse, an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, is sexually attracted to men. We’ve spoken to several people who have direct (though not intimate) knowledge of Peretz’s sexual preference and say that he makes no effort to hide it. We’re told that his children have spoken openly of their father’s life as a gay man. This is not a closely guarded secret or fleeting rumor; it’s a commonplace among members of the Washington politico-media power axis.
Peretz’s life has sort of fallen apart over the last year. Though he has been an avowed bigot for most of his adult life, he has only been held to account for his ethnic hostility to Arabs and Persians recently, when he wondered aloud on his New Republic blog “whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” The “these people” were Arabs, for whom Peretz also said “life is cheap” (he later apologized for the First Amendment line). The naked racism of the sentiment caused even some of Peretz’ oldest friends to hang their heads in shame, and served as an ignominious cap to his career. He and his wife divorced in 2009 (they had been separated since 2005), and late last year he stepped down as the New Republic‘s titular editor-in-chief and moved to Tel Aviv, where he teaches high school students and is active on the social circuit (he still maintains residences in New York City and Cambridge, Mass.).
A late-life crisis for such an eminent figure—not to mention Peretz’s defiance in the face of critics that included longtime supporters—is catnip for magazine editors. So in December, New York published Benjamin Wallace-Wells‘ 5,500-word profile, “Peretz in Exile.” The piece delved into all manner of details of Peretz’s personal life—”theirs was a complicated union,” Wallace-Wells wrote of his marriage, quoting Peretz saying “our values—and our lifestyles—sundered us apart.” The piece noted that some of Peretz’s closest friends and family members viewed him as “more compartmentalized than ever-open, almost to a fault, and yet also hidden.” And it noted—with a wink to insiders so Wallace-Wells wouldn’t appear clueless—that Peretz’s “friendships with younger men were sometimes so intense that they could seem to border on the erotic.” As for Peretz’s actual erotic relationships with men, or the role they may or may not have played in the dissolution of his marriage—they apparently didn’t merit inclusion.
And now this week comes another 5,000-plus-word profile, this time in the New York Times Magazine. Stephen Rodrick‘s “Martin Peretz Is Not Sorry About Anything” covers much of the same ground—though it includes the rather insane story of Peretz testifying on behalf of notorious New Republic fabulist-turned lawyer Stephen Glass at a California Bar Association hearing last year. Like Wallace-Wells, Rodrick aimed squarely at Peretz’s personal romantic life but chose not to mention the most salient fact about that life. “His wife cited his infidelities and explosive temper as problems in the marriage,” Rodrick writes, “but Peretz pre-empted any discussion of his romantic world, declaring, ‘My sexual life is too complicated for one word, and not complicated enough for 15.'” Unless he is an idiot, Rodrick knew precisely what Peretz was talking about, but chose to leave readers with a blurry evasion—just as he chose to write without further clarification that Peretz “lives part of the year in a high-rise apartment tended by his assistant, a 26-year-old former I.D.F. officer.” More winks for those in the know.
Both pieces purport to be attempts to understand Peretz’s psyche, and their deliberate elisions of one of the most foundational aspects of that psyche is fundamentally dishonest. We are given to understand that Peretz is important to know, and that in order to know him we must know about his wife, his marriage, his infidelities—but not his sexuality.
Eric Alterman at The American Prospect:
Well, it’s finally over. Martin Peretz, who, according to David Horowitz’s Frontpage webzine, “has been a pillar of responsible liberalism since buying The New Republic magazine in 1974,” has finally been shown the door. He did not go quietly. You can find his parting remarks here and also here and here. Peretz left TNR as he inhabited it: in a splendid (and splenetic) fit of pique, pessimism, and personality-driven politics.
No one who knew Peretz or his magazine will doubt that it was full of sound and fury. But what did it signify? It’s no easy task to sum up 37 years of anything, much less the tenure of a magazine editor who prided himself on being described as “schizophrenic.” For some, the fact that right-wing zealots like Horowitz, his Sancho Panza, Ronald Radosh, and National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg were the only people willing to come to Peretz’s defense as he was pilloried as a racist crank tells you all you need to know about the man. (It does, after all, take one to know one.)
But then there is the matter of the magazine itself. It’s long been a cliché to point out that Peretz hired editors who were both more liberal, and usually, more intelligent than he was. And many of them went on to become among the brightest stars of the American journalistic firmament. One of them, Leon Wieseltier, stayed and stayed. (The Times piece hints of the possible gift of a house from his patron.) Allowing for a few personal obsessions of his own, Wieseltier has managed week after week, for a quarter century, to publish the most stimulating and erudite “back of the book” available anywhere in America. No matter what egregious attacks Peretz sent forth against Arabs, blacks, Mexicans, or (no less frequently) liberals, Wieseltier never had any trouble attracting top-tier reviewers whether in politics or literature and eliciting what was often their best work.
So the plus side of Peretz’s tenure was that the magazine was mostly liberal, mostly well-edited, and easily dismissible when it wasn’t. But while it is true that under Mike Kinsley, Rick Hertzberg, and to lesser extent, Peter Beinart and Frank Foer, TNR lived up to its reputation as a lively, contrarian read on the week’s news with a strong liberal voice, its net effect — even in its best years — was to weaken liberalism and comfort conservatives. The primary problem was the fact that unlike say, Commentary, which after a few years of claiming that it had been “mugged by reality” owned up to its conservative conversion, TNR continued to insist that it spoke for American liberalism. And people who did not pay too close attention — or had their own reasons for indulging this conceit — played along. And so the virus of liberal self-hatred infected the entire bloodstream of liberalism — particularly with regard to Israel and the Palestinians — and bore at its body from within.
The old “even the liberal New Republic” line that dates back to the Reagan era was no joke. Kinsley and Hertzberg could write the most brilliant eviscerations of Reaganite nonsense available anywhere, but the fact that elsewhere in the magazine, these same endeavors were receiving the enthusiastic endorsements not only of Peretz but of Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke — even on occasion, the likes of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Perle — counted for far more in the context of contemporary debate. The sad fact of political life in Washington is that “liberals” are never so influential as when they are throwing in the towel on their own team and endorsing the arguments of the other side. (The punditocracy tends to call this “moderation.”) The New Republic “mattered” when it endorsed the contras, the U.S. war in El Salvador, the MX missile, Charles Murray’s racist pseudo-science, Republican lies about the Clinton health-care-reform plan, the Iraq War, and pretty much everything the Israeli government has said and done for the past 37 years; other times, not so much. Liberals making liberal points, however eloquently, might make other liberals feel better. They might help to inform their arguments. But they do not make news; they do not get their authors invited on Sunday shows or invited to the White House.
I think Peretz’s corruption of liberalism within the media went even deeper. He hired a lot of TNRers when they were young, just out of some Ivy League school. I knew a lot of the type of the kids he would hire and they are the most affirmation-craving people you could possibly imagine. A few years of getting patted on the head by a millionaire for churning out contrarian Harvard-dining hall bullshit leaves its mark on such souls. I don’t think Michael Kinsley ever recovered from it, though I agree he can be very sharp when he’s not basking in the brilliance of his own counterintuitive ironies. With nearly all of these TNRers, the desire to bust out “how genocide is good for your 401K” remained long after they were no longer in Peretz’s employ.
There’s no question that prominent so-called “liberals” in the media have wanked around “spreading freedom”, bashing unions, doing triple-backwards contrarian reverses, musing about IQs and school uniforms, while the American middle-class has languished on life support. That’s not right.