The Washington Monthly, Liberal Media Farm Club

The Washington Monthly, Liberal Media Farm Club
by L. Brent Bozell III
December 12, 1996

The Washington Monthly, the 28-year-old repository of "neoliberalism" founded by Charles Peters, has discovered conservative student journalism - and its wealthy backers.

Moonlighting U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Thomas Toch notes that past editors of conservative college newspapers are taking jobs at prominent spots in what liberals like to call "the right-wing attack machine." Among the conservative journalistic up-and-comers are Rich Lowry at National Review, Matt Rees at the Weekly Standard, and Dave Mastio with USA Today's editorial page.

Toch identifies some of the venerable organizations behind this journalistic jihad: the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Collegiate Network, the National Journalism Center, and the Leadership Institute, and funders like the John M. Olin Foundation. He concludes: "Conservatives may grouse about the hurdles they face in getting their perspectives heard in the media. But if the swelling ranks of influential alumni of the student newspaper network are a measure, conservatives don't need to be pitied so much as emulated."

There are some problems with all of this. Surely, conservatives have been training young journalists for decades now; outlets like National Review have been hiring them for forty years. So where is the story here? Isn't the real story that after decades of trying, conservatives still can't get jobs in the "objective" news media, and continue to be relegated to the role of commentators - as Toch's examples clearly demonstrate?

It's a subject no one knows more about than Charlie Peters - because The Washington Monthly itself is the model, a farm club training liberal journalists for the big time in the "objective" media. Peters' own autobiography, "Tilting at Windmills," includes the blurb from writer J. Anthony Lukas: "Charlie Peters is a pivotal figure in American journalism, an editor who has transformed the way the press covers government, a mentor who has spawned a whole generation of discerning proteges." National Journal magazine recently noted "back in the 1970s and '80s, a number of journalists joined big-time news organizations such as Newsweek from the ranks of the neoliberal Washington Monthly."

In his book, Peters tells of the early years at the magazine: The newest top editor of U.S. News & World Report, James Fallows, then "had just turned 22 and had been working for Ralph Nader that summer." Time reporter turned USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro was "a just-defeated 25-year old congressional candidate...he had run as a liberal Democrat." Peters notes the Harvard alums helped each other out: "Fallows recommended [current Washington Post business editor] David Ignatius, who recommended [former Newsweek and current New Republic writer Mickey] Kaus, who recommended [Newsweek and NBC pundit] Jonathan Alter, and so on."

The Washington Monthly's board of contributing editors includes not only Alter and Fallows, but Newsweek's Matthew Cooper and Gregg Easterbrook, Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Georges, Washington Post reporter David Segal, U.S. News Moscow bureau chief Paul Glastris and former national reporters Arthur Levine (U.S. News), Jonathan Rowe (Christian Science Monitor), and Joseph Nocera and Steven Waldman (Newsweek).

In fact, The Washington Monthly has served as a favorite freelancing spot for reporters. A few years ago, the newsletter MediaWatch examined three and a half years of opinion journals, and found "objective" reporters wrote 98 articles for the Monthly (versus just three in National Review), outdone only by 112 in The New Republic.

But isn't neoliberalism something significantly to the right of liberalism? Peters doesn't think so: "Many people also confuse neoconservatism and neoliberalism and assume that we are considerably further to the right than we really are." That's the real danger for the conservative movement. Peters-style neoliberalism isn't in any way opposed to large-scale government interventions (indeed, the Monthly cheered massive Clinton health care reform); like Bill Clinton, its standard-bearer, the socialist ends are the same, only the means are different.

Jon Meacham left his perch as a Monthly editor at the beginning of 1995, but ended with a thoughtful essay on where young conservatives and young liberals were making the same mistakes: "The current crop of twentysomethings believes, almost universally, that small, locally-based community groups can do more good than large-scale federal action." Meacham echoed Peters in asserting that both sides had "mental blocks" of squeamishness, putting their own self-interest before federal power: "Once those blocks are broken - once people understand that government is a way to solve problems we all want solved, not just an automatic evil - then the fog may lift, and perhaps - just perhaps - it will once again be cool to believe."

That's what gets you hired in the "objective" media these days. Mr. Meacham became national affairs editor at Newsweek. Conservatism may be running rampant in America, but the news media door remains shut and bolted, manned by a liberal journalistic community that continues to flower while its ideas wither on the vine.