Republic is scolded for turnovers Adrift: Washington Monthly scolds liberal journal for failure to exhibit purpose.


December 14, 1997|By Matthew Gilbert | Matthew Gilbert,BOSTON GLOBE

A senior editor of George magazine gives the New Republic a sharp kick in the pants in December's Washington Monthly.

With four editors having left within an eight-year period, the magazine has lost its "mandate" and its "vision," says Richard Blow. It has "become smug and cynical -- the embodiment of much that is wrong with political journalism today." It "skitters from one end of the ideological spectrum to another," he writes, and it "fails to radiate the sense of a magazine with a purpose, that wonderful feeling the best magazines provide when you open their covers, of having entered a community with common interests and goals." True enough (although you have to hope that Blow doesn't perceive George as any sort of model).

Blow surveys the departures of editors Michael Kinsley, Hendrick Hertzberg, Andrew Sullivan, and, most recently, Michael Kelly, who, New Republic owner Marty Peretz told George magazine, "couldn't recognize a big idea if it hit him in the face."

But the article, called "Liberalism's Flagship Adrift at Sea," is less about the internal politics of the magazine and more about how the editors have led the magazine into a nihilistic corner where it "advocates virtually nothing, but finds fault everywhere." Kelly, reportedly let go because Peretz didn't like his critical stance toward Al Gore, was particularly harmful, says Blow, a "drastic mistake."

Blow's advice? Peretz has been a "courageous" owner, but he needs either to be "up-front about its stance" toward Gore, or to sell the magazine "while it's still a hot commodity."

Why Spy

Meanwhile, Spy hasn't been a hot commodity for almost a decade. It's not just that the magazine isn't funny, or that its humor sometimes doesn't seem to make any sense. It's that the editors haven't quite figured out what to expose now that 1980s excess is a thing of the past. The targets of Spy's ridicule are either mystifyingly random or else completely over-ridiculed elsewhere already. The much-criticized Ellen DeGeneres is No.1 on the annual list of "100 Worst People, Places, and Things," for instance, and the media's "Dianarama" is No.2, while "Blind People Hunting" is No.3. Yes, Michigan has legalized hunting for the blind -- a metaphor, it seems, for Spy at this particular point in time.

Cartoon greatness

The New Yorker for Dec. 15 is "The Cartoon Issue," and it's great fun. There's nothing like a still that's perfectly astute about human nature, and yet indirect and ever-so-slightly puzzle-like, inciting a pause and then a nodding grin. The issue contains a host of cartoons, including favorites of people like Martha Stewart and William Safire, and those with holiday and desert-island themes. There's also a photo of 50 cartoonists, and an essay by former illustrator John Updike: "A drawing can feel perfect, in a way prose never does, and a poem rarely," he writes. "Language is intrinsically approximate, since words mean different things to different people, and there is no material retaining ground for the imagery that words conjure in one brain or another."

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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