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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Did the Internet Ruin National Review?

One small but interesting phenomenon during the 2008 campaign season was the infighting that broke out at the flagship of conservative political opinion, National Review. To make a long story short, a couple of NR contributors, Kathleen Parker, and the founder’s son, Christopher Buckley, said some heretical things; the former called for the resignation of Sarah Palin from the GOP ticket, while the latter went over the brink and endorsed Barack Obama. Buckley simultaneously quit his NR column.
After the election, David Frum, another Palin-o-skeptic, and moreoever, an advocate of major reforms in the conservative message, announced he was shutting down his own NR-based blog.
In an after-action report on these developments for the New York Times the other day, Tim Arango assesses the damage, and quickly asserts that it was “the coarsening effect of the Internet on political discourse” that not only produced the defections from NR, but is threatening “its reputation for erudition.”
I know nothing about Tim Arango, but I’d have to guess he knows next to nothing about the history of the opinion-magazine world, where defections, purges, changes in managment, changes in ideology and strategy, and regular turnover in contributors, editors and publishers, has been more the norm than the exception. If anything, NR is relatively stable by those ancient standards. Two or three defections in the course of an election cycle that represented a huge crisis for the GOP and the conservative movement? Par for the course, I’d say.
But the specific claim that the internet is ruining National Review strikes me as simply fatuous. Arango is presumably referring to The Corner, NR’s unique group blog that is something of an inter-office water cooler where people connected to the magazine exchange views all day, every day. Arrows were indeed aimed at Parker, Buckley and Frum on The Corner this year, and to be sure, many opinions are expressed there that don’t quite live up to NR’s traditions of “erudition.”
But I’m with the American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein on this: the Corner is a valuable institution, and whatever conflicts it has engendered is attributable not to its form or its internet-based conveyance, but to the coarsening of conservative opinion generally at the end of the Bush Era. I’m personally fine with picking through obnoxious Corner posts in search of a witty or insightful gem from Ramesh Ponnuru, or a surprising concession to unorthodox political opinion by Rich Lowry. And if the atmosphere at the Corner encourages off-the-cuff comments that enrage me, it also encourages off-the-cuff comments that give me hope that conservatives aren’t all just drinking the koolaid and reinforcing each other’s prejudices. In general, the Corner exhibits a free-flowing style of conversation that’s only found in the comment threads of most blogs, left, right or center.
So spare me, Mr. Arango, for laments about how the internet is destroying yet another bastion of journalistic “erudition.” Back in its pre-digital days, NR published just as much obnoxious content as it does today, but without often letting us see the internal debates that were definitely going on under the surface. Maybe it’s lost some of its capacity for the deft use of latinates and arcane references to Oakeshott or Thomas Aquinas, but that’s something it will probably never recover now that William F. Buckey, Jr. is gone. For better or worse, NR is what it is, and the internet is a positive force in its present and future.

2 comments on “Did the Internet Ruin National Review?

  1. Conservative Citizen on

    As a newbie here, I offer My Opines from the Mid Western perspective.
    As to the effect of the Net on NR, I offer that the Net offered accuracy, sources, more information, and a much quicker response than any MSM, or print mag.
    During the primary days the net was really effective, causing more consternation from expose’ sources, more detailed information and a means of access to the average Joe, than any MSM.
    For a Old Timer, with more time than money, it has been a blessing. I continue to observe, comment and learn.

  2. Conservative Citizen on

    To the moderator, I have signed in, confirmed via the software, and obviously am able to comment. Your next page shows, “no comment, need to sign in”


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