One of America’s finest conservative publications, The Weekly Standard, is no more.
That’s not a line I ever thought I would have to string together, but it’s true. Last Friday, MediaDC, a subsidiary of Philip Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group, announced that the opinion magazine would cease operations.
Created in 1995 by William Kristol and Fred Barnes, and published by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., The Weekly Standard produced well-written, thought-provoking and intellectual pieces. It was an influential vehicle for conservative thought during George W. Bush’s presidency, yet remained independent in terms of its praise and rejection of Republican and Democratic politicians and policies.
Many talented writers, columnists and academics contributed to this publication. This included the likes of Kristol, Barnes, Stephen Hayes, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Tucker Carlson, Mary Katharine Ham, John Podhoretz, David Frum, Kelly Jane Torrance and Brit Hume.
I was fortunate to have been an occasional contributor since 1999. Most of my work was published in the books and arts section, and I worked with three talented editors: Joseph Bottom, Philip Terzian and Adam Keiper.
The Weekly Standard’s conservative and independent stance didn’t change when News Corporation sold the magazine to MediaDC in 2009, or when Hayes replaced Kristol as its editor-in-chief in 2016. The opinion magazine’s editorial position about U.S. President Donald Trump was fairly negative, however, and this caused more than a little discomfort among Republican movers and shakers.
It was also quite different than Clarity Media’s other significant publication, the Washington Examiner. The Examiner started as a daily newspaper in 2005 but switched into a weekly magazine focused on national politics in 2013. Most of its published work was either positive or neutral about Trump, and it curried more favour with the White House.
Earlier this month, Clarity Media announced the Examiner would “expand its editorial focus with new sections and columns that tap into the interests of a nationwide subscriber base” starting on Jan. 1, 2019. The magazine would include a focus on culture, book reviews, sports, personal finance and obituaries. Seth Mandel, the former op-ed editor of the New York Post, would become the executive editor of the print publication.
Hold on, some people remarked. Several of these adjustments would mean the Examiner and Weekly Standard would be doing the exact same thing. Would the two publications wage a friendly battle, or was the latter going to be sold and/or modified?
Neither, as it turned out.
For a short spell, it appeared the Weekly Standard would be given time to find a new owner. That phase ended rather quickly, leading to a couple of weeks of uncertainty and, on Dec. 14, the final stake in its pen-and-ink heart.
While some celebrated this news, many conservatives were disappointed. There were certainly times I disagreed with the magazine’s editorial position about Trump’s political and economic actions, as did other contributors. But as a strong believer in free speech, it was always their decision to make – and their right to craft positive or negative analysis about the president’s agenda.
We also need more conservative publications for consumption, not less.
It’s true that conservatives can still read many great right-leaning U.S. publications like National Review, The American Spectator, The New Criterion, The New Atlantis and Claremont Review of Books, among others. But the marketplace can handle more choice and variety, and The Weekly Standard’s particular niche market has never really been duplicated. Based on current political trends and ideas, the chances of a conservative phoenix rising from these particular ashes are slim to none.
Life will carry on, and Weekly Standard staff members will gradually find new work opportunities. But it’s still a shame to see a great publication die an unnecessary death.
The staff should be proud of the work they accomplished, and that their values and integrity were maintained until the very end. Even today, that still stands for something.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.