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Co-Founder: 'Cannibalism,' Not Anti-Trump Stand, Killed 'Weekly Standard'


The Weekly Standard has closed. The conservative magazine, which featured the likes of William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, had published for 23 years and, during the last Bush administration, was nicknamed the in-flight magazine of Air Force One. It's safe to say it's not required reading in the Trump administration. John Podhoretz helped found The Weekly Standard. He now edits Commentary magazine - another conservative publication. Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the president tweeted this weekend, and he was very pleased at the closure of The Weekly Standard, calling you, quote, "pathetic and dishonest." What's your response?

PODHORETZ: Well, I think that's something to be worn as a badge of honor. I think that The Standard, which has been in existence for 23 years, is a publication that took very little notice of Donald Trump until he began running for the presidency. And it was the general view of the - much of the editorial staff that he was unfit for office, largely as a result of his personal behavior and horrendous insults to, you know, John McCain's war heroism and various other things. And so a fissure developed between people on the right who like to admire Trump and the people on the right who could not countenance him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, as you point out, the magazine was anti-Trump in much of its coverage or at least critical of the president. Some say that's why you're being shut down by your publisher. Is that right?

PODHORETZ: That is not right. I think from everything that we can tell, for complex reasons, some of which may have to do with personal pique and certain types of peculiar corporate strategies, the magazine, which has significant revenues for an opinion journal - around $3 million a year, which is, believe me, in the annals of such things, nothing to sneeze at - is being shut down so that its subscriber list can be incorporated into a new magazine that it's starting in the next couple of weeks connected to the Washington Examiner, which is an online newspaper that the same company owns. So in essence, it's being cannibalized, literally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to take a little bit of a wider view. You know, Trump, in many ways, owns the Republican Party now. What message do you think this sends to the conservative media? Your magazine, in many ways, was an outlier, trying to do in-depth reporting, fact-based analysis, where most conservative outlets rely on opinion writing in large part these days.

PODHORETZ: From the beginning, there were complaints on the right in Washington that The Standard wasn't enough of a team player, that it was - it cast too critical an eye on Republicans and conservatives - that, you know, liberals should do that, and The Standard should attack liberals and leave conservatives alone. And it certainly did attack liberals. And so it has always had an uneasy relationship with the official Republican Party. And Trump's party, you know, has become an even more extreme example of the cult of personality that so many people in America and in politics are now afflicted with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where is conservative media now in your view?

PODHORETZ: Well, I mean, I have to say, in some senses, it's obviously - some elements of it are stronger than they've ever been. Fox News is stronger than it's ever been in terms of ratings. On the other hand, a magazine like mine, Commentary, which is very, very small, you know - but we've had a 40 percent circulation increase. We're a conservative magazine. But we are critical of Trump, but Trump is not - does not represent the focus of our efforts.

So I think part of this is the maturation of the right, even in this sort of time of crisis, in some sense, for the right - has also been a time of opportunity on all sides. But, you know, most publications that I can think of have done what - they have worked very hard to maintain their intellectual integrity in the face of a president and a movement that doesn't believe in that, that believes in the personal politics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there any regrets? Do you regret the coverage of the Iraq War, for example?

PODHORETZ: Well, I think that there are many things to regret in any publication's history. I think, basically, what - all a magazine - editors, writers - can promise is that they will be honest and say what they mean and think and argue the best way that they can. And with the facts available at the time, that is what The Standard did.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John, I have to ask you, how do you feel?

PODHORETZ: I'm furious. I'm disgusted. I'm proud of what we accomplished. I am awash in admiration for the people who have lost their jobs for no good reason and yet are holding their chins up and going to continue to go on doing what they can to speak the truth to power.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's John Podhoretz, a co-founder of the now-defunct Weekly Standard. Thank you so much.

PODHORETZ: Thanks, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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