By leaving The New Yorker to start Talk, Tina Brown was right on the Zeitgeist in one way: She left a deadly earnest person in charge, David Remnick, just before there began to be non-boldface things to write about again. She left Hendrik Hertzberg behind, too, the sardonically mellifluous former Carter speechwriter Remnick installed to pump out the “Comment” column, which is lovely to read and as unerringly liberal as a garden party of humanities professors.
But on February 3, Remnick took that space to drop the mother of all opinion bombs in the city’s latte. He came out in favor of the war. “History will not easily excuse us,” he wrote, if “we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them.” Not what many New Yorker editors—or readers—wanted to hear. The grumbling was quieted slightly by Roger Angell’s antiwar piece in March—even if the opposing views left some scratching their heads. “ ‘Comment’ occupies a curious space that’s between the people that write it and the voice of the magazine,” says Hertzberg, who didn’t want to talk much about his boss’s hawkishness. Remnick, who’s very soothing on the phone, knows he upset his staff, and takes care to point out that two thirds of the piece was spent “beating up on Bush.”
“There are several opinions there,” says Time’s Joe Klein, who has covered politics for The New Yorker. “Rick tends to be fairly classical old-Democrat, and I think David and Jeff Goldberg certainly are more in favor of this thing.”
“Rick’s ‘Comment’ this past week was a very telling and evocative piece about the divisions within the office,” adds Remnick. In it, Hertzberg contrasted the president’s evangelical self-assurance with everybody else’s worry: “Both among those who, on balance, support the coming war and among those who, on balance, oppose it are a great many who hold their views in fear and trembling, haunted by the suspicion that the other side might be right after all.”
“We are not a magazine with a line,” says Remnick. “I appointed Rick to do ‘Comment.’ I know him to be a liberal thinker. Here he and I have degrees of difference, but I’m not Paul Wolfowitz on this.”
Reading the Times: Please, Howell, tell us what to think! (March 24, 2003)War of Words: We canvassed New Yorkers from Mort Zuckerman to Hillary Clinton, Mario Cuomo to Moby, on what should be done. Here’s what they had to say…(March 24, 2003)