Monday, January 28, 2013

Michael Kinsley's Hate Mail

This is really a story of Michael Kinsley slinking back to The New Republic for the umpteenth time. He first wrote at (for) the magazine 36 years ago. He's been just about everywhere else since, including an extremely undistinguished stint as the editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times about a decade ago. In any case, here's his piece, at the completely made-over TNR, "Sixth Time's the Charm: My Journalistic Life in (Nasty) Letters":
In 1979, I received a letter that I can still recite by heart, because it was very short, and it was taped on the wall next to my desk for many years, reminding me of the first time I came back to The New Republic. I had quit as editor in an ethical dispute with the editor-in-chief.

Ted Kennedy was challenging President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. At this point, before he remarried, Kennedy's dual reputation for girth and senatorial statesmanship had not yet overcome his reputation as a party boy. My position was that Kennedy's attitude toward women was a legitimate issue; the editor-in-chief's position was that even Ted Kennedy had a right to privacy. I sulked for a couple of weeks, reflected on the nature of capitalism, and slunk back to work.

The letter arrived a few days later. I don't remember who from. It made up in pith what it lacked in colorful details. It read:
Dear Mr. Kinsley:
I didn't know that you had gone, but I'm sorry to see that you're back.
That reader has suffered a lifetime of disappointment, because this week marks—depending on how you count—the fifth or sixth time I have knocked on The New Republic's door. And each time, they have let me back in. My reasons for leaving have varied: greater glory (or so I thought), bigger audience, more money, disputes with the management, an opportunity (one of two that, according to Gore Vidal, you should never turn down) to appear regularly on television. But I always came back eventually.

It's 36 years since I first worked for The New Republic, 23 years since the last time I wielded the editor's scythe, and 17 years since I have written for the magazine regularly. The last time I resigned as editor, the current editor-in-chief and owner was five years old. Needless to say, he is wise beyond his years.

This time, I return not as the editor (please direct your complaints and article submissions elsewhere) but as "editor-at-large." I see this as a sort of avuncular role, in which my primary duty will be cornering the young people in the office and forcing them to listen to tedious anecdotes about the old days. I also plan to write self-indulgent, lachrymose memoirs of journalistic colleagues and friends as they, one by one, drop off their perches.

Project Bore the Interns will be immeasurably aided by my recent discovery of several boxes of letters hidden in a corner of my garage.
Continue reading.

It's actually an interesting piece. And I used to think Kinsley was interesting back in the old "Crossfire" days. But by this stage in the game I've read too many of his very left-wing op-eds to be that excited. Although TNR's publishing makeover looks pretty snazzy. More on that at the New York Times, "The New Republic Reimagines Its Future" (along with the additional commentary at Mediagazer and Memeorandum).