The Death Of The Weekly Standard

Thanks apparently to the fact that it remained unwilling to get in line behind the Trumpidians, the conservative owner of The Weekly Standard has shut the magazine down.

After twenty-three years of operation The Weekly Standard, one of the more influential publications on the right, abruptly closed its doors in what at least some are seeing as a decision rooted in an effort to silence conservative critics of President Trump:

The Weekly Standard, a primary voice of conservative Washington that found itself out of step with the Trumpward turn in the Republican Party, is ceasing publication after 23 years, its owners announced on Friday.

The cause of death was financial, ideological or personal, depending on who was doing the telling.

The magazine’s parent company, Clarity Media Group, cited a steep decline in subscriptions and revenues. But editorial leadership had clashed with ownership in some instances over its critical coverage of President Trump and the hard-right views of his defenders.

The Standard’s editor in chief, Stephen F. Hayes, pronounced himself “profoundly disappointed” by the decision on Friday to cease publication. The editor of Commentary magazine, John Podhoretz, who was a co-founder of The Standard in 1995, described the closing as a “murder” and “an entirely hostile act” perpetrated by malevolent owners.

Clarity Media, which is controlled by the billionaire conservative businessman Philip F. Anschutz, has devoted resources to The Washington Examiner, a publication that provides cozier coverage of the president. Talk of selling The Weekly Standard was floated, but the company decided against it.

At an all-hands meeting on Friday, the chief executive of Clarity Media, Ryan McKibben, disputed reports that the shutdown was related to the tenor of Trump coverage, instead citing poor financial performance, according to an attendee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive conversations.

The attendee said it remained the overwhelming view of The Standard’s staff and leadership that Mr. Anschutz did not, in the end, want to own the leading Trump-skeptical publication in conservative media.

The acrimonious end was perhaps in keeping with a publication that was proudly heterodox from the start, eager to buck the prevailing values of conservative dogma and forge its own provocative point of view.

Started by Mr. Podhoretz and William Kristol, both scions of establishment conservative figures, The Weekly Standard offered an alternative to the National Review-led hegemony of right-wing publications. (The third founder, Fred Barnes, remains as executive editor; Rupert Murdoch initially provided financing.)

It grew into the dominant organ of neoconservatism and a leading voice in favor of intervention in Iraq, helping to define politics in the George W. Bush era. Among its star alumni were Tucker Carlson, Matt Labash and David Brooks.

Sold in 2009 to Mr. Anschutz, The Standard remained influential. But the Trump phenomenon posed a challenge. Originally denounced by Republican thought leaders like Mr. Kristol, who declared himself a supporter of the “Never Trump” movement, the president has since been embraced by his party — and by right-wing news outlets that are thriving with a diet of pro-Trump coverage.

The Weekly Standard took a different tack. The editors supported Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court picks and tax overhaul. But the magazine’s free marketeers did not cheer trade tariffs, and its foreign interventionists lamented the president’s retreat from a central role in global leadership. Criticism of a so-called deep state, a staple of Breitbart News and Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity, did not dominate its pages.

(…)

Some of the magazine’s critics on Friday delighted in its demise. “TAKE THAT YOU NEVER TRUMPERS,” Chuck Woolery, the “Love Connection” host turned Trump acolyte, wrote in a Twitter post. Breitbart News knocked the magazine as “once-influential” and a “Never-Trump publication.”

Clarity Media declined to comment beyond a formal written statement.

“The Weekly Standard has been hampered by many of the same challenges that countless other magazines and newspapers across the country have been wrestling with,” Mr. McKibben, the chief executive, wrote in a news release. “After careful consideration of all possible options for its future, it became clear that this was the step we needed to take.”

Not surprisingly, the President couldn’t resist the opportunity to dance on the Weekly Standard’s grave even as its staff was learning they were out of work just before the holidays:

The truth, of course, is that Kristol, who is among the President’s most prominent and vocal conservative critics, had not been involved with the operation of the magazine for some time, although he did still occasionally contribute pieces for the magazine and, thanks to his role in its founding, remains associated with the publication in the minds of many people on the right and left. In any case, it didn’t take long for many of those who support the Standard’s editorial position to speculate about the reasons why the publication was being shut down. On his Twitter feed, for example, Jonah Goldberg contended that there were several parties who had expressed interest over the past several weeks in acquiring the magazine and keeping it in operation rather than letting it die in the manner that Clarity Media has done, but that the companies ownership chose to ignore those offers and go ahead with the option of shutting the magazine down. This was the basis for John Podhoretz’s charge that what happened was nothing short of a murder:

Max Boot, meanwhile, argues that the conservative movement needs a voice like the Standard now more than ever:

There’s nothing unusual about a rich owner losing interest in one of his playthings. What makes this case more tragic and infuriating is that Anschutz and McKibben refused entreaties from the Weekly Standard’s editor, Stephen Hayes, to sell the magazine. Rather than allow the magazine to live under new ownership, Anschutz and McKibben murdered it to harvest its subscriber list for the Examiner. So a talented staff of journalists is being thrown out of work just before Christmas in an act that is equal parts destructive, stupid and cruel.

The Standardites hope to reopen under a new name and with a new owner. Whether that happens, the Weekly Standard is no more, and it is appropriate to mourn its passing even while hoping for a rebirth. The Weekly Standard was, of course, a conservative magazine, but it is quite possible not to agree with some or even much of what it stood for while still appreciating its feisty editorials, fine reporting, elegant writing, witty satires, and a “back of the book” that offered serious book reviews, unpretentious film reviews, and cultural commentary from the likes of Podhoretz and Joseph Epstein. An awful lot of talented journalists have written for the Standard over the years, including Fred Barnes, David Brooks, Andy Ferguson, Matt Labash, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, P.J. O’Rourke — and even Tucker Carlson in his pre-demagogic days.

(…)

The Weekly Standard was run for most of its history by Bill Kristol — a good friend who is gifted with an ironic disposition and a cheerful temperament. While he is a well-known conservative, Kristol is hardly doctrinaire. He opened the Standard to all sorts of viewpoints — many of them entirely apolitical — and then led it into fierce, principled opposition when Trump seized control of the right. I devoutly hope a new Standard will arise to lead the Republican Party out of the moral and political oblivion to which the president is consigning it.

I haven’t been a regular reader of The Weekly Standard for years, both because of the extent to which I’ve changed what I choose to read on a regular basis and because I simply don’t have the time to read everything that’s out there. Additionally, the Standard never really fell into the same ideological track that I did even in the time before Donald Trump (a time that is becoming increasingly difficult to remember, but I digress.) Both before and during the Bush Administration, it was also one of the primary outlets of the neoconservative foreign policy that brought us the Iraq War and a “War On Terror” that has expanded far beyond its intended goal of bringing the parties responsible for the September 11th attacks to justice or otherwise eliminating them. It’s also worth remembering the role that the Standard and writers such as Bill Kristol played in reinforcing the weaknesses and failures of the George W. Bush Administration and that it was Kristol was among those given “credit,” if that’s the right word, for promoting Sarah Palin as a national political figure long before she was selected to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008, a role which Kristol later seems to have come to regret.

Notwithstanding that, though, The Weekly Standard has stood out among conservative media over the past three years thanks to the unwillingness of its writers and editors to fall in line behind Donald Trump after his victory in the race for the Republican nomination became clear, and even more so after he won the Presidency. Unlike so-called conservatives who have turned into full-blown Trump fanboys and fangirls, the writers and editors at the Standard have chosen to remain consistent with their principles and call out the President the way he deserves to be called out despite the fact that its owner and publisher have become more and more pro-Trump. To be sure, the Standard isn’t the only conservative site where criticism of the Trump Administration is permitted, you can also find prominent and eloquent anti-Trump voices at Commentary and The American Conservative as well as several writers at National Review, such as David Frenchwho have maintained their principles even as those all around them are sacrificing theirs. For the most part, though, the conservative pundits who are Trump critics have, as former Reagan Administration staffer Bruce Bartlett observed on Twitter today, moved on to mainstream media outlets where they can maintain their principles without having to worry about a publisher willing to shut a magazine down for ideological reasons. As for the rest of the conservative media, they have made their own choices when it comes to this President, and they will have to live with that choice going forward.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Guarneri says:

    Yeah. Trump. I heard he caused today’s thunderstorms too.

    BTW. Max Boot? Seriously. Max “where’s my next war” Boot??

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  2. CSK says:

    The WS was probably far, far too literate for the average Trumpkin, who vastly prefers The Gateway Pundit for truly hard-hitting real news and incisive, elegant commentary.

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  3. Kathy says:

    Today’s orange conservative is far more efficient. They don’t need a brain.

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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    @Guarneri:..Yeah. Trump. I heard he caused today’s thunderstorms too.

    And you are just dumb enough to believe it!

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    Let’s not forget, that as one of the main cheerleaders for the disastrous Iraq War, the Weekly Standard has the blood of millions on its hands.

    There are plenty of ways to stand up against Trump without whitewashing something that somehow actually managed to be worse than Trump.

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    such as David French, who have maintained their principles even as those all around them are sacrificing theirs

    Principles like advocating violence toward gay people and kidnapping their children.

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  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    To: the *good conservatives* out there (all, probably, 5 or 6 of you)

    Your own movement and those who control the funding of it have abandoned you as not relevant. You stalwartly refused to admit where you were taking your ideology and have been caught up in the whirlwind of the wind you sowed for all these years. You drove any good people who might have stood with you away, calling them RINOs and worse. You’ve lost your party and your voice and the nation will suffer for your folly. Still, I hope you can find your way back to civilization and contribute to fixing the problems you created, but I don’t think you’ve learned anything that will help.

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  8. Kylopod says:

    Ever since the rise of Trump, I’ve grappled with how to deal with the fact that his staunchest critics on the right have tended to be the neocons. On the one hand, we need all the allies we can get. On the other hand, I always wonder whether this group is opposing Trump for the right reasons; I sometimes get the sneaking sense they’re more bothered by his departure from their reigning ideology than his racism and authoritarianism. Listening to Kristol in interviews over the past few years, I find him wildly unreflective of the role he and others played in the rise of Trump–particularly his being one of Sarah Palin’s biggest boosters in 2008.

    What I find most troubling is a style of liberal and centrist concern-trolling that has emerged that waxes nostalgic about the Bush years based on how good he supposedly looks in relative comparison to Trump. As Matt Yglesias put it a couple of weeks ago: “It’s easy to snark about the conspiratorial thinking of the current president and the relentless dishonesty of his press operation, but the Bush-era conspiracy theories about Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were similarly ridiculous, and got way more people killed.”

    Now I’m not ready to credit Trump as more benign than Bush. Even though Bush caused more concrete, easily measurable harm than Trump–so far–I think the destruction of democratic norms, the undermining of global alliances, and the rise of white nationalism may have more disastrous consequences in the long term. Certainly he poses more of an existential threat than the Bush presidency ever did–whether that threat comes to fruition in the end or not.

    Indeed, it’s important that we not forget that many of the worst elements of the Trump era had their precursor in the Bush era–the anti-intellectual assault on empirical truth, the mindless machismo, the role FOX News played as the propaganda arm of the administration. In the quoted tweet above, Trump gets into good broken-clock mode (except in his case it’s about twice a year rather than twice a day) when he describes Bill Kristol as a “failed prognosticator.”

    In a certain sense, then, Trumpism is simply Bushism on steroids.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kylopod:

    his staunchest critics on the right have tended to be the neocons

    Their primary complainant seems to be that he’s completely ruining their chances for a war with Iran.

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  10. Paul L. says:

    Same progressives who are defending the Weekly Standard claimed the Michael E Mann defamation suit against National Review and CEI would rightly destroy both.

  11. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Their primary complainant seems to be that he’s completely ruining their chances for a war with Iran.

    Ironically, they may be wrong about that.

  12. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    To be fair, in recent years the Weekly Standard was far less neocon, and had really good reporting.

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  13. Kylopod says:

    @Just A Guy: Hi, Bung.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just A Guy:

    1. Tens of millions of Americans have completely abandoned their senses to worship at the feet of the Orange One.

    You ought to know just how true that is. Groveling sycophancy has become a defining Republican characteristic.

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    Whenever there is an argument about the respective merits of Republicans versus Democrats, inevitably the “Both Sides Do It”/”Washington is Broken” contingent pipes in. But the reality is that, since Gingrich, the Republican Party powers-that-be publicly base their policy goals on lies and nonsense and actively promote such things, while the examples for “the other side” are much farther down the Democratic food chain. In fact, I’ve seen more than one opinion piece that equated the lies told by Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell with the comment sections on liberal leaning blogs. And the Weekly Standard was a prime example of that dichotomy. The people behind it actually were the Republican intellectuals of their time. But rather than seriously debate issues and look for real solutions to real problems, they marshaled their intellectual might towards promoting nonsense, changing the subject, reveling in snark and sticking their fingers in the eyes of their perceived enemies. They worked night and day to articulate problem after problem, but never offered a fact based analysis or proposed a real solution.

    There is nothing inherent to the Republican Party that dictates such an outcome. A good portion of the population believe nonsense and cheer those who articulate that nonsense in the most divisive way possible. Anti-vaxxers know no political boundaries, and the “Cops shoot unarmed blacks at 100 times the rate of unarmed whites” is the meme that will not die in the progressive community no matter how many studies show that it isn’t true.* But starting with the Southern Strategy and gaining full steam with the nonsense Reagan spouted, the Republican leadership made a gamble on telling the rubes anything they wanted to hear and simply doubling down and attacking the fact-checkers as the “liberal media” or “the main stream media”. Gingrich brought a toxic level of dickishness to the enterprise and gradually it consumed the whole party. The problem with telling the rubes one thing while believing another is that the Party ended up attracting those rubes in overwhelming numbers, and the rubes demanded ever more extreme nonsense to satisfy them. And, just as importantly, it repulsed people who demanded basic decency and evidence based policy.

    The staff of the WS are the equivalent of the pastors of an Evangelical mega church who constantly upped the ante in their sermons, adding more and more fire and brimstone and extremist moral certainty, while justifying to themselves that this is only for the good of the simple little people. They themselves know better, and the fact that they are passing around troubled young women and going on secret drinking binges behind the scenes is fine for because they know how to control it. But when Trump showed up on the scene, the WS crowd suddenly awoke from their drunken stupor and realized they were no longer just playing the rubes for suckers. The rubes were in charge.

    I guess they get a little credit for being aghast at what had happened while they were indulging themselves. But not that much credit.

    *It’s interesting that the anti-Black Lives Matter cohort doesn’t play those studies up, perhaps because they show that blacks are something like three times likely to be needlessly harassed by the police, with such harassment stopping short of shooting. Or more likely because the concept of basing an argument on actual facts is completely foreign to them.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I guess they get a little credit for being aghast at what had happened while they were indulging themselves. But not that much credit.

    I would have an easier time giving them credit if they took responsibility for their own role in bringing this situation about, instead of treating Trump as some aberration to an otherwise healthy party.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod: Back in the dark ages, my younger brother lived in radio range of NYC and started telling me about this morning DJ, Howard Stern. I listened to him a couple of times and thought he was basically just an *sshole. But, my brother insisted, that was just a schtick. In fact, to my brother, the thing that defined Stern was that it was all an act and once in a while he would just come right out an admit it. He would say to his audience (more or less), “You guys are nuts. Everyday after my show ends I hop in a limo and get driven back to my family in suburban Long Island, where I help my kids with their homework and barbecue burgers. I wouldn’t want to have someone like the character I play here anywhere around me.” It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future, and I usually get them wrong. But I argued with my brother and said that, no matter how much of an act that is now, he will eventually become that character. All his money, his fame, the adulation of the crowd, is based on the character, not on his “real self”. Eventually he’ll either have to drop it or it will consume him. And it did.

    That’s what happened to the Republican Party. They thought they were playing a character, and they realized too late they had actually become that character.

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “I would have an easier time giving them credit if they took responsibility for their own role in bringing this situation about, instead of treating Trump as some aberration to an otherwise healthy party.”

    Indeed!

  19. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan: Part of Stern’s shtick has always been that he supposedly acts as a sort of id to his real self–that he turns off his internal filter and is willing to say what he’s really thinking without worrying about the consequences. He had his character explain it in the movie Private Parts (I had to look this quote up, but I remember it distinctly):

    “And every time I feel like I shouldn’t say something, maybe I should just say it, just blurt it out, you know? I just got to let things fly. I got to go all the way…. A lot of times, I’m just holding back.”

    He didn’t invent this approach, of course; I think it’s what a lot of standup comics do as well…or pretend to do. The fact is that there’s a fine line between “speaking one’s mind” and just being outrageous for the sake of drawing attention to oneself, which happens to be the strategy adopted by a lot of celebrities who aim to stay relevant by being willing to do or say just about anything to place themselves in the headlines. For those who model their entire career around this gambit, such as Stern, they quickly become like junkies getting a fix: they are always under pressure to go further than they did before, to plumb new depths of depravity, because their audience always eventually becomes deadened to all their previous antics.

    Much of America’s right wing over the past few decades became mired in this approach. It’s not an accident that among the most influential right-wing commentators were Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio hosts, who were operating in a medium closely related to that of the shock jocks (let’s recall that Glenn Beck was himself a former shock jock). What came to be called the “alt right” was essentially a movement of Internet trolls obsessed on the idea of getting people “triggered,” aiming to disguise old-fashioned racism, misogyny, and other hateful attitudes under the rubric of rebelling against the oppressive decorum of political correctness.

    Trump fit perfectly into this world. Even though he’s been all over the map politically throughout his career, he has always been at bottom something of a shock jock. Last year Billy Bush wrote an NYT op-ed in which he tried to explain what he had thought was happening on the notorious Access Hollywood tape: “[T]here were seven other guys present on the bus at the time, and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real.”

    Maybe you’ll dismiss Bush’s comments as rationalization for his own participation in this awful, demeaning conversation. Me, I believe him 100%. Because that was exactly my impression of Donald Trump at the time, and it continued to be for many years afterward. I thought his public persona was more or less a “crass standup act.” I simply could not believe any human being could be that overtly ridiculous for real.

    So when he talks about how he’s the greatest president in history, is he performing? Is he doing an act? Is he playing a character that he can put aside when the cameras are off? Or is he simply that delusional?

    I actually don’t think he necessarily believes that he’s the greatest president. What he does believe is that talking in this cartoonishly grandiose manner is the most effective method of winning followers. And he’s held this belief for a long, long time. That’s what’s bizarre.

  20. Kathy says:

    BTW, there’s this little irony:

    To be sure, it has never made money. Magazines like it never make money.

    So the acolytes of the free market admit their opinion magazine subsisted on a subsidy.

    Ok. I understand it’s a private rather than a public subsidy. Meaning it’s freely given by a patron, rather than from money taken by a government. There is a real difference, sure. But the admission is the enterprise cannot make money and requires a subsidy.

    I’d keep that in mind the next time they wax virtuously about letting companies fail (companies that do make money in normal times), or that a new industry that probably wont’ make money for years but has other benefits should never be subsidized.

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  21. gVOR08 says:

    Years ago, when Jack Kemp was active, he was often cited as the leading intellectual of the Republican Party. I always took that as a slam on the Republican Party. With that in mind, I’ll agree the Weekly Standard hosted the leading intellectuals of the conservative movement.

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  22. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: Many, many years ago, my wife was stuck in DC beltway traffic with a limo driver on the way to Dulles. The driver was an elderly African American gentleman and it so happens this was literally his last day driving. He wasn’t bitter or angry but he had no f*cks to give. My wife, seeing the opportunity, started asking him about politicians. Who was the worst politician he had ever driven? Jack Kemp. Hands down. On the “Will not drive” list of every senior limo driver. Arrogant prick who screamed at drivers to run red lights because don’t you know I’m a gd’ed Senator!!?

    More surprisingly, his favorite politician was Mary Matelin. He told a number of stories that showed her going out of the way to show friendship and respect.