the national interest

Hitler Alive and Well, Owning Liberal Magazine

He’s done something to the Jews! Also free bacon may be involved. It’s confusing.

The Washington Free Beacon has a report, sourced to “Washington Free Beacon Staff,” that Chris Hughes is purging Jews from The New Republic. (Occasionally the Free Beacon publishes stories too embarrassing for any staffers to be associated with by name.) The sensationalism of the article is structured in hilariously descending fashion, with each successive addition to the story draining its plausibility until nothing remains at the end. But the Free Beacon’s report offers a helpful window into a social problem, in which millions of conservatives are held in a constant state of bug-eyed rage because they’re being manipulated for financial and ideological profit by right-wing pseudo-journalists.

The headline — “Hughes Drops Jews” — implies that the magazine’s new owner has undertaken a broad anti-Semitic purge, a prospect that would surely alarm, among others, his newly hired Jewish editor, Frank Foer. The introduction to the story blares, “The New Republic has quietly dropped at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead in a move that may signal the publication’s continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint.” Oddly, this sentence conflates Jewish writers with pro-Israel writers, an odd equation favored by hard-core anti-Semites.

As we read on, “masthead” turns out to mean the list of “contributing editors,” which is a broad list of former staffers, friends of the owner, or people generally enlisted to fill out a masthead without getting paid. As a rule, few contributing editors contribute, and no contributing editors edit. (Michael Kinsley once joked, “There are two kinds of contributing editors — the kind who don’t write, and the kind who you wish wouldn’t.”) I happen to be a contributing editor at TNR. The pay isn’t good (by which I mean, it is nonexistent), but, then, the demands are equal to the pay.

Needless to say, none of this context is provided in the Free Beacon’s story. Instead, the story describes the purged Jews as “well-respected longtime contributors to the magazine,” an odd description for a group that has — with, I think, one exception — not published anything in the magazine for years.

However, by the end of the fourth paragraph, after listing the purged Jewish contributing editors, the story notes by the by that one of them, Peter Beinart, “is the publisher of Open Zion, an anti-Zionist Daily Beast blog sponsored by the New America Foundation,” a development the story concedes, with hilarious understatement, to be “complicating the picture.” So it’s sort of a combined purge of Jews and anti-Zionists?

Then finally, by the end, the piece includes still more information. “Seven additional writers have been dropped from the newly redesigned masthead. They include: Gregg Easterbrook, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jeremy McCarter, Maggie Scarf, R.V. Thaw, Alan Wolfe, and Robert Wright.” So the facts of the story turn out to be that a magazine has conducted some routine trimming of its unpaid, ceremonial list, and five of the writers deprived of their ceremonial title are Jewish and seven are not! (Wolfe is reportedly Jewish, an easily Google-able fact the Free Beacon misses in an immovable object-versus-irresistible-force collision of the Beacon’s desire to make the story as sensationalist as possible against its lack of basic journalistic competence.)

So, in a mere 314 words, we have gone from a purge of Jews to a report that half the writers removed from a titular list of former contributors are Jewish, and some of them hold hawkish positions on Israel, and one holds dovish views. (A scan of the current and still rather long contributing editor roster suggests that the remaining proportion is at least as heavily Jewish as those ushered off it.) This is not quite the publishing Kristallnacht the Free Beacon’s readers were promised.

The Washington Free Beacon is a smear sheet founded by Matthew Continetti, occasional contributor to the Weekly Standard and son-in-law of Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Continetti wrote a founding credo for the Free Beacon, titled “Combat Journalism,” which is notable because it openly defined an ethos that has come to define large chunks of the conservative journalism world. Continetti described what he perceives as a lurid conspiracy of the liberal establishment, and promises to match it:

At the Beacon, all friends of freedom will find an alternative to the hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, paranoid hyperbole, and insipid folderol of Democratic officials and the liberal gasbags on MSNBC and talk radio. At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them.

If that is not clear, Continetti assails his opponents for their “hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, paranoid hyperbole” and open partisanship, and then, in the next sentence, promises to do the same thing right back to the liberals. The results are precisely what you’d expect. There has always been a certain amount of bad reporting and shoddy argumentation in journalism, but mostly it arises out of genuine ignorance or ideological fanaticism. The Free Beacon is an important innovator in the right-wing pseudo-journalism world. Hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, and paranoid hyperbole are not the accidental by-product of ideological zeal but its stated goal.

Hitler Alive and Well, Owning Liberal Magazine