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Nicholas Stix

Is It Time to Play Taps for The American Conservative?
By Nicholas Stix
Jul 20, 2006 - 11:22:00 AM

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During the last few days, a number of sources in and close to The American Conservative (TAC) magazine variously informed me that TAC is shutting down imminently; that TACís bosses are sending out mixed signals, and will shut down soon, if their present fevered search for "angels" is unsuccessful; and that TAC will shut down in the fall, at the latest. ("Angels" - my word, not theirs - is Broadway slang for backers.)

On Monday, I called TAC, to get a comment. Staffer Daniel McCarthy said "O.k., one moment," and went to confer with one of the bosses I sought to speak with. McCarthy then came back and told me, "Iím sorry, thereís no one here who can help you at the moment."

I opined that I would think that his bosses would want to comment on such an important story. McCarthy replied, cooly, "Well, thanks for calling."

It would be a shame if TAC failed, because:

  1. It was the first major conservative magazine since National Review (NR), almost fifty years earlier, that was founded not to curry favor with the powerful, but to criticize them, and seek to change their minds. Unfortunately, NR had long since turned largely into a coven of neocon court propagandists. And though TACís demise might suggest otherwise, there is a healthy market for a semi-weekly magazine showcasing highbrow conservative intellectual and political writing and journalism;
  2. I have a number of friends and acquaintances there, who are among Americaís greatest intellectuals, and who would have to seek elsewhere after work; and
  3. I never got to sell an article there, and go through the cycle of freelancing for the magazine, enthusiastically promoting it, getting stiffed by the editor, and becoming embittered towards the rag, that I have gone through with so many other media outlets where I lacked (or lost) a "rabbi," and so was seen by the editor as "of use" for a time, before being eventually tossed aside.

TAC (it calls itself "AMCONMAG," but that sounds too much like "ECOMCON," the clandestine military unit poised to take over the country in a coupe díetat, in the movie Seven Days in May), could have been successful, by the admittedly modest standards of political magazines. It had star-power (editor and writer Pat Buchanan), a few million bucks behind it (courtesy of Greek editor/gossip columnist/shipping and textiles heir, Taki Theodoracopulos, and a stable of brilliant writers.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of them white, have been mad as hell for years about what passes for "conservative" journalism and political debate in this country. Their legions variously read, post, and send letters to hundreds of Web sites such as Free Republic, VDARE, American Renaissance, Liberty Forum and Pipe Bomb News, and hundreds more blogs.

But no matter how sophisticated paper-free media has become, thereís something special about a magazine. A few magazines have sought, with mixed results, to replace National Review, as it was originally conceived.

Chronicles magazine could have served NRís audience, but it has long been run by classicist Thomas Fleming, who while a brilliant writer and thinker (at least he was, prior to the lapse of my subscription in early 2000), is an incompetent and vindictive editor. While I wrote for Chronicles (1992-1999), under Flemingís leadership, its readership shrunk from over 20,000 to just over 5,000.

(And abusing editors and stiffing writers is also no way to go through life. In 1999, managing editor Ted Pappas left Chronicles after carrying Fleming for ten years. Rather than publicly thanking Ted for his yeoman-like efforts, Fleming coldly noted in a box that Ted had left Chronicles. No thanks, no nothing.

By the way, Fleming still owes yours truly $150, for a 2,200-word, "Letter from New York" on Rudy Giuliani that he commissioned but never ran, never formally killed, and for which he never paid me a kill fee. I managed eventually to chop up the manuscript and sell the scraps, but that has no bearing on Flemingís obligation to me. As best I could figure, Flemingís stiffing of me just after Ted gave notice was a perverse form of revenge-by- proxy, like stories Iíve heard of one tenured academic slugging a rivalís graduate student. I guess Ted Pappas was my "rabbi" at Chronicles. You'd think Fleming would have realized just how vengeful writers can be.)

Middle American News, which is largely devoted to immigration reform but has published some work on race (i.e., mine), has over 100,000 readers, but has never had the financial backing necessary to make a big splash.

American Renaissance (AR) has ably exploited the Internet, with a Web site that is read daily by tens of thousands of conservatives unhappy with the GOP. It is also read by conservative writers who would never admit to perusing it; yet many of the articles they discuss or link to, clearly came from ARís invaluable daily roundup. And ARís revised report, The Color of Crime, was the biggest event in American criminology last year. The MSM responded with the silence of the graveyard.

However, ARís strength is also its weakness: Itís about race, period. It is also not, to my knowledge, lavishly funded.

Political magazines rarely turn a profit, and there is always less money for conservative than for socialist magazines. What about the Weekly Standard, you say? The Standard isnít a conservative magazine. In any event, its $3 million-per-year subsidy (according to Steve Sailer, who writes for TAC) from Rupert Murdoch is singular, to my knowledge, in the history of political magazines. One source tells me that TAC has only had $3 million of Taki Theodoracopulosí money for its entire run. Conversely, editor Tina Brown ran through $70 million-$80 million of S.I. Newhouse and Harvey Weinsteinís money, respectively, in mismanaging, successively, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines, without ever being considered a failure in the slick/pc/puff magazine world.

TAC might have prospered, or at least limited its losses, had it given its readers straight talk about race, and laid out that "humbler" approach to foreign affairs that George W. Bush had promised the electorate in 2000, and which was characteristic of the Old Right, whose spirit TAC sought to evoke. An isolationist or neo-isolationist approach would have been respected, had it been intelligently argued. Instead, TAC caved in on race, without even putting up a fight, and its foreign affairs position, rather than offering intelligent isolationism or neo-isolationism, often amounted to little more than "Die Juden, er, neocons, sind unser UnglŁck!"

The attacks on the, ahem, neocons, were to give the editors the illusion that they were fearless. Straight talk on race would have replaced such illusions with real courage.

And then there is the mischief factor. As veteran journalist Tom Roeser showed on Wednesday, in a series of criticisms eviscerating virtually the entire current issue, TAC is in the habit of taking positions matching those of the hard-left, seemingly only to pique the GOP, rather than based on any principle.

Should "angels" arrive bearing gold, their character will likely determine whether TAC continues along the editorial path it has so far trod, turns in a
direction such as that which I have suggested for it, or goes yet a third way.

However, should TAC be done, what will be the legacy of its less than four-year run? Its friends and enemies will seek to spin its demise this way and that, but the magazineís true legacy will reside in what its most talented writers go on to do. That includes whether they manage to found another conservative magazine, and if so, whether they avoid repeating the mistakes they made this time around, or give in even more to paranoid obsessions about Jews - e.g., as having done in the magazine - cowardice on race, and a penchant for mischief for mischiefís sake.

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