Murdoch launches a magazine for the right

September 11, 1995|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Sun Staff Writer

Washington -- In this season of Republican triumphalism, does Washington really need a new voice trumpeting the supremacy of political conservatism?

Bill Kristol, a successful Republican political strategist, believes it does. So does Fred Barnes, an esteemed journalist and commentator of the right. Today they introduce that new voice, The Standard, a weekly magazine of conservative thought and ideas.

They are the principals. But somebody else is involved, another man of the right who's paying for it all, the sotto voice behind the new voice.

It's Rupert Murdoch, America's own Citizen Kane. And Britain's. And Australia's. In Britain, the 63-year-old Mr. Murdoch owns the Times of London, The Sunday Times and the lowbrow but savagely political Sun. But here Mr. Murdoch's holdings, which include the New York Post, TV Guide, various publishing houses and the Fox TV network, are decidedly non-political.

With The Standard, he enters the Washington arena, where he already wields plenty of influence with the Republican-dominated Congress. Earlier this year, Congress gave him a multi-million-dollar tax break on the sale of two TV stations to a minority-owned corporation.

Mr. Murdoch's relationship with House Speaker Newt Gingrich is under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee because of a $4.5 million book deal the speaker was offered by one of Mr. Murdoch's companies, HarperCollins. Mr. Gingrich gave up the lucrative advance, but will still make millions from his first book, "To Renew America."

The question The Standard provokes, of course, is: What does Rupert Murdoch want?

"He wants what he wants everywhere else, a respectability, power," says Andrew Sullivan, editor of The New Republic, one of the new magazine's competitors. "I think this is one way he hopes to get it, by intellectual credibility instead of just the power of money."

"He wants a presence here," says Mr. Barnes, the executive editor. "I'm not sure he's looking for enhanced authority in Washington, or just a voice."

So far Mr. Murdoch has put up only the $3 million needed to get the magazine through its first year, to cover its production costs, mailing, salaries for its 25 staff members, the rent on the new suite of offices in Washington, on 17th Street, comfortably close to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, upstairs.

How much say will he have over the The Standard's content? Though Mr. Murdoch typically maintains a tight grasp on his other publications, Mr. Kristol, the editor and publisher of The Standard, says he has been assured total editorial control. And the magazine, he promises, "won't be doing any puff pieces for the Republican Congress."

The first issue, he hopes, will make that point clear. It carries an essay by conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer which respectfully dismisses Mr. Gingrich's Utopian embrace of digital technology as elaborated in "To Renew America." Another, by author David Frum, criticizes the new Republican Congress for losing enthusiasm for its own agenda.

The whole package, he says, will send the message that, despite its publisher's affinity for Republicans, and despite the financing of Mr. Murdoch, The Standard is nobody's poodle.

An air of newness

The walls are still wet with paint at the new offices of The Standard; the desks are without clutter.

If there is any mystery about the politically radical inclinations of the people running around in here, the flag on the wall with its colonial circle of stars should clear it up, or the words of the national anthem that frame it. Then there is the glass elephant candy jar on the receptionist's desk, a clue that you are in a Republican theme park.

At the center of it all is Bill Kristol, a short man with pink skin as fresh as the new paint in the place. He's 42 and smiles a lot, seemingly devoid of the fever ideologues often radiate. He is not glib, nor even persuasive, and seems almost tentative for a man with a formidable reputation as GOP political strategist.

His now defunct political action group, Project for a Republican Future, helped plot the successful Republican resistance to President Clinton's health-care reform plan in 1994, a strategy formulated in the line: "There is no health-care crisis."

He is the son of Irving Kristol, the co-editor of The Public Interest who began his intellectual life as a liberal then moved rightward. The senior Kristol, along with a number of other liberal intellectuals, such as Norman Podhoretz, retired editor of Commentary magazine, Nathan Glazer, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, clumped together in the 1970s into a powerful nucleus of neo-conservatives. (John Podhoretz, a former speech writer for Ronald Reagan and son of Norman, is deputy editor.)

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