Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Closure of Weekly Standard magazine silences anti-Trump voice

President jubilant but others lament loss of one of the few conservative voices willing to stand up to him

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet guests at the Congressional Ball on December 15, 2018. AFP
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet guests at the Congressional Ball on December 15, 2018. AFP

Ever since it was founded, The Weekly Standard was often an outsider, championing alternative voices within the conservative movement.

The magazine supported the rise of the neoconservatives and then the march to war in Iraq before in recent years remaining distant from the ascent of Donald Trump, and becoming one of the few voices of dissent as the president took a stranglehold on the Republican Party.

So it was perhaps no surprise when Mr Trump celebrated the announcement that its next issue will be its last.

“The pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard, run by failed prognosticator Bill Kristol (who, like many others, never had a clue), is flat broke and out of business,” he wrote on Twitter. “Too bad. May it rest in peace!”

Staff were told of the closure on Friday and the final issue was completed a day earlier. It will be published on Monday.

Clarity Media Group, the magazine's owners, said a steep decline in subscriptions and revenue was to blame. However, the company’s leadership was known to have clashed repeatedly with editors over its direction and, in particular, its hostile coverage of Mr Trump and some of the extreme views of his supporters.

Ryan McKibben, its chief executive, said: “The magazine has been home to some of the industry’s most dedicated and talented staff and I thank them for their hard work and contributions, not just to the publication, but the field of journalism.”

The magazine was founded by Mr Kristol and John Podhoretz in 1995 with backing from Rupert Murdoch.

It launched into a conservative media world dominated by the National Review and its circulation never troubled its rival. Instead, it often positioned itself as a political outsider, siding with a more humane conservativism and backing the maverick politics of John McCain over Newt Gingrich in one early battle, for example.

But it gained most influence under the presidency of George W Bush, when it became known as the in-flight magazine of Air Force One. It was a significant voice in support of the march to war with Iraq.

Its credo at the time might be best summarised in one of its post-9/11 pieces.

“We expect the president will courageously decide to destroy Saddam's regime. No step would contribute more toward shaping a world order in which our people and our liberal civilisation can survive and flourish.”

Its alumni reflect its position in the Republican firmament as well as the diversity of views it put forward. They include John Bolton, a key member of Mr Bush’s inner circle and now Mr Trump's national security adviser; David Brooks, a columnist at the New York Times; and Tucker Carlson, a Trump booster at Fox News.

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In recent years it took on the "Never Trump" mantle while much of the Republican party fell into step behind the leader. In the past month headlines have included “How Trump’s lies about Russia were exposed” and “The vapourware presidency”, ridiculing a string of bold presidential promises that failed to materialise.

So while Mr Trump celebrated its end, plenty of other voices lamented the loss of one of the few conservative voices willing to stand up to the president.

The Weekly Standard’s editors and writers refused to prostitute themselves to the Trumpists. In doing so, they stood as a continuing rebuke to those who jettisoned integrity for access and traded ideals for fame,” wrote Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist who had previously worked for the magazine.

“Conservatives in the Trump era had a choice between sycophancy and honour; too few chose, as the Standard did, the honourable path.”

While many commentators focused on its hostility to Mr Trump, insiders and its founders suggested the simple economics of the media market may have been to blame.

Its closure leaves the owner, Philip Anschutz, free to focus on another publication, The Washington Examiner, which has been vigorous in its support of Mr Trump.

Mr Podhoretz, co-founder and contributing editor of the Standard, said the magazine’s stance on Mr Trump was not solely to blame.

“Rather, I believe the fissures in the conservative movement and the Republican party that have opened up since Trump’s rise provided the company man with a convenient argument to make to the corporation’s owner, Philip Anschutz, that the company could perhaps harvest the Standard’s subscriber-base riches and then be done with it,” he wrote in a piece for Commentary magazine.

Whatever the real reasons, the result is the same: Mr Trump’s vision of the Republican party is ascendant as a divergent conservative voice is killed off.

Updated: December 16, 2018 07:00 PM

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