Monday, November 17, 2008

National Review Sees Decline in Respectability

Here's an interesting piece on the decline of the high-minded ethic at National Review:

In a span of 252 days, the National Review lost two Buckleys — one to death, another to resignation — and an election.

Now, thanks to the coarsening effect of the Internet on political discourse, the magazine may have lost something else: its reputation as the cradle for conservative intellectuals and home for erudite and well-mannered debate prized by its founder, the late William F. Buckley Jr.

In the general conservative blogosphere and in The Corner, National Review’s popular blog, the tenor of debate — particularly as it related to the fitness of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to be vice president — devolved into open nastiness during the campaign season, laying bare debates among conservatives that in a pre-Internet age may have been kept behind closed doors.

National Review, as the most pedigreed voice of conservatives, has often been tainted — unfairly and by association, some argue — by the tone of blogs, reader comments and e-mail messages. “Bill was always very concerned about having a high-minded and thoughtful discourse,” Rich Lowry, the magazine’s editor, said. “If you read the magazine, that’s what it was and that’s what it is.”

In October came the resignation of Mr. Buckley’s son, the writer and satirist Christopher Buckley, after he endorsed Barack Obama for president. He did so on Tina Brown’s blog, The Daily Beast, to avoid any backlash on The Corner.

Now David Frum, a prominent conservative writer who enmeshed himself in a minor dustup during the campaign by turning negative on Governor Palin, is leaving, too. In an interview, he said he planned to leave the magazine, where he writes a popular blog, to strike out on his own on the Web.

“The answers to the Republican dilemma are not obvious and we need a vibrant discussion,” he said. “I think a little more distance can help everybody do a better job of keeping their temper.”

Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor at National Review and probably has a bigger store of institutional knowledge than anyone, having written his first article, in 1970. “I think the tone of what we do, I’m certainly proud of,” he said. “You can’t be responsible for the world.”

The magazine faces the twin challenges of re-energizing the conservative movement while trying to stay relevant itself amid a shifting media landscape that is challenging the authority of all old-line media institutions.

“There’s a lot of thinking to be done,” said Mr. Lowry, in the magazine’s mostly empty New York offices two days after Mr. Obama won the presidency. Nearly all the staff was getting ready to go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a postelection fund-raising cruise in which readers, editors and guest speakers mix for a week of conservative conversation, but Mr. Lowry stayed behind to put out the new issue.

“We’ve always had rigorous internal debates,” he said. “But the advent of the blogosphere and e-mail and the rest of it have made it easier to blast out their impassioned instant reactions.
I have to be honest: National Review's not my favorite source of conservative opinion (and neither is David Frum, with all due respect). As a neoconservative, I'd much rather read Commentary or the Weekly Standard.

Still, I don't think any policy journal in today's day-and-age can escape the impact of the Internet to structure of debate across the mass media and punditocracy. For Rich Lowry and Richard Brookhiser to try to hermetically seal the turbulence at the Corner from what's happening with the flagship publication is folly.

Just look at the Atlantic, for example. I've always enjoyed reading that magazine, given its engaging topics and the high-quality writing.

But I can never look at the publication the same way now that the brand has been demon-stained by Andrew Sullivan (and previously, Matthew Yglesias). Indeed, I can't imagine why
Ross Douthat continues to work there as long as Sullivan's the marquee blogger headlining their web presence. What a disaster in terms respectability on that side of the media world.

There's more on this topic at


shoprat said...

The National Review is a responsible, level-headed publication that will survive this downturn.

AmPowerBlog said...

I think so too, Shoprat, but there's no escaping the internet.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I agree. There is always a market for any publication that promotes reasoned debate. The internet lends itself to anonymous guerrila tactics. Shameless to say the least as you surely are aware.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Sorry, dropped a "l" guerrilla.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JR said...

Let them go their own way ...

Tom the Redhunter said...

"The Corner, National Review’s popular blog, the tenor of debate — particularly as it related to the fitness of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to be vice president — devolved into open nastiness during the campaign season"

What nonsense. I read The Corner daily and saw nothing of the sort. So what if some criticized Palin. Is this not allowed? Are they all to march in lockstep (then they'd be criticized for that!)?

One reason why I like The Corner is diversity of opinion. I thought that the New York Times liked that, except apparently where conservatives are concerned.

Sure, the GOP and conservatism is undergoing an internal evaluation. Isn't it a good thing to examine your assumptions and have them examined?

I also read The Weekly Standard every day. Not so often for Commentary, but at your suggestion Donald maybe I will.

Anyway, interesting to see what the Times is saying.

Anonymous said...

What the internet has done is to turn freedom of the press into freedom of access to the press. Where we once used to have editors as gatekeepers, and anyone who wanted to be published had to first get past editorial review, now everyone is his own editor -- and that means the editorial standards have reached the lowest common denominator.

It has a cascading effect: as you keep going lower, others go lower still, in an effort to gain readership via shock value, or simply due to anger.

theCardinal said...

Does anyone actually read National Review anymore? I can't name the last time I read anything interesting in it. Weekly Standard and American Conservative have better writers and pieces. How does that happen? NR doesn't make news anymore, the other two do.

NR should survive, but it needs to change. I like Lowry personally but he appears to be part of the problem.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Rich needs to hire me.