Beinart: How TNR Stopped Being a Jewish Magazine

In the wake of TNR’s implosion, Peter Beinart (ahem), who used to be the Editor of TNR, has a column in Haaretz (ahem) titled “How The New Republic stopped being a Jewish magazine.” (ahem). He sees TNR’s implosion as “an important moment not only in the history of American journalism, but in the history of American Jews.”

Say again?

It’s an important moment for American Jews because for the last 40 years, The New Republic has been a culturally Jewish magazine. Jews had always worked at TNR; Lippmann himself was an assimilated German Jew. But in 1974, when Martin Peretz bought The New Republic, it came to reflect his very public Jewish identity. TNR became a remarkable hybrid, only possible because of the extraordinary acceptance and privilege afforded to Jews in late 20th century America: an influential liberal political magazine that was explicitly informed by Jewish sensibilities and concerns.

So… If in, say, the year 2008, a gentile had characterized TNR as a “Jewish” magazine, or of representing an identifiably liberal Jewish perspective, they would probably be marched out of town as yet another example of you-know-what. But when a fellow Jew makes the same assessment, well, that’s okay:

The most obvious manifestation was the magazine’s coverage of Israel. Peretz was a fervent Zionist and made defending the Jewish state one of the magazine’s chief passions. But even when Peretz stepped down as editor in chief in 2010, TNR’s Jewish identity endured. Under literary editor Leon Wieseltier, the magazine remained an indispensable source of commentary on Jewish history and culture. And inside the magazine, yiddishkeit was rarely far away. I remember once hearing Wieseltier explain that he had asked an author to submit his book review by Rosh Hodesh. “That’s how Malcolm Cowley used to do it,” he added wryly. The implication was clear. Cowley had been TNR’s literary editor in the 1930s, when American Jews were still outsiders. Now his successor was a graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush. American Jews had arrived.

Well, isn’t that special.

Okay, so that’s TNR. What about the state of American journalism in general? Beinart can’t seriously believe Jews are a) underrepresented, and b) in danger of being underrepresented?

As a force in American journalism, we certainly have. Jews edit The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Vox, Buzzfeed, Politico, and the opinion pages of The New York Times and Washington Post.

But it’s unlikely to last. Although the ouster of Wieseltier and editor Frank Foer had nothing to do with their being Jewish, the likely end of TNR’s Jewish sensibility may portend the declining influence of Jewish culture in American intellectual life…

Whoa! There’s such a thing as a “Jewish sensibility”?

And note Beinart’s immediate, instinctual appearance of anti-Semitism as a hypothesis #1 as the proximate cause anytime anything bad happens to a Jew. Not in this case, mind you, but the fact that, in making a passing reference to the ouster of Wieseltier and Foer he is compelled to report that it “had nothing to do with their being Jewish.”

Oddly, but also very tellingly, Beinart uses the occasion of TNR’s demise to bemoan, not celebrate, increasing exogamy among Jews.

One driver of that decline will be assimilation. With the intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews now above 70 percent, Jewish identity in the United States is becoming less and less distinct. For many decades to come, there will still be plenty of people with some Jewish ancestry writing and editing at America’s most prominent publications. But increasingly, being of Jewish descent will no more inform their work than being of Italian or Irish descent informs the work of their assimilated Christian colleagues. One likely result will be declining coverage of Israel. Many of the most prominent American Jewish journalists in their late 40s, 50s or 60s – Wieseltier, Thomas Friedman, David Remnick, Roger Cohen, Jeffrey Goldberg, William Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, Charles Krauthammer – write about Israel frequently. By contrast, the most successful Jewish journalists in their 20s and 30s – Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias, Ben Smith, Dana Goldstein, Spencer Ackerman – write it about it much less…

Of the demographic changes rapidly changing the U.S. from a predominately white Protestant country to… something else:

In my mid-20s, when I came to The New Republic full time, I remember being delighted that I could so easily integrate my Jewishness into my work. After two years at Oxford, where being Jewish was considered something best kept to oneself, I felt like I could finally exhale. It saddens me that in the decades to come, young American-Jewish journalists may neither have that experience, nor even desire it. On the other hand, I can imagine a day when an editor at The New York Times or The New Yorker or maybe even The New Republic wryly tells a colleague that her article is due by Diwali, Chinese New Year, Eid al-Fitr or the Day of the Dead. The thought makes me smile.

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