Chris Hughes Universally Disliked by Conservatives, Liberals

Parade of former TNR writers and editors denounce poke button pioneer

Chris Hughes
Chris Hughes / AP
December 10, 2014

For a town typically split by politics, Washington is surprisingly undivided in its deep disdain for New Republic owner Chris Hughes, a Washington Free Beacon analysis found.

Hughes, the 31-year-old former roommate of Mark Zuckerberg and inventor of the "poke" button who bought the New Republic in 2012, came under fire last week after he axed two of the magazine’s long-time editors. The move prompted a mass resignation of editorial staffers.

The Free Beacon has long reported on the New Republic’s struggles under Hughes’s leadership. However, Hughes’ decision last week to fire top editor Franklin Foer and long-time literary editor Leon Wieseltier led to a media outcry, an angry backlash from his staff, and nearly 50 resignations.

At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank blasted Hughes as "a callow man who accidentally became rich—to the tune of some $700 million—because he had the luck of being Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard."

A group of former New Republic editors—including Sidney Blumenthal, Peter Beinart and Andrew Sullivan—wrote in an open letter to Hughes that the magazine’s "legacy has now been trashed."

"It is a sad irony that at this perilous moment, with a reactionary variant of conservatism in the ascendancy, liberalism’s central journal should be scuttled with flagrant and frivolous abandon," they bemoaned.

Right-leaning former TNR writers also criticized Hughes’s disastrous management in comments to the Free Beacon.

"Chris Hughes reminds of that Army major's explanation during the Vietnam War for burning down a village. ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’" said Fred Barnes, who was the magazine’s White House correspondent for a decade.

"TNR was a unique place when I was there from 1985 to 1995," Barnes added. "If it hadn't been, I wouldn't have been hired by its greatest editor, Mike Kinsley. Rather than saved, I suspect TNR will become just another website."

Lawrence Kaplan, who resigned as a TNR contributing editor last Friday, said he asked to be removed from the masthead after he learned Leon Wieseltier had been fired.

"[Wieseltier was] very much what the magazine was about. He had no use with niceties of the left or the pieties of the right. He was a generally a heterodox and interesting thinker," said Kaplan. "And this schmuck comes in and fires him." 

"We’ve had these really horrible owners in the past who were always cutting costs, they all despised Leon, they all despised Peter [Beinart], they all despised Frank [Foer] … but they never actually pulled the trigger. They had some sense of historical awareness," Kaplan added. "Whereas this guy [Hughes] comes in wearing sheep’s clothing, with buckets of money, and talking all kinds of bullshit, and he ends up doing what his predecessors never did—and I think there’s some irony there."

Ron Radosh, the historian and former TNR contributor, said the magazine that once challenged liberal orthodoxies by defending American interventionism and Israel is now "dead."

"The New Republic was a magazine of culture and politics and history. It had a cachet that nobody else had. It ran important arguments. It challenged the liberal shibboleths for a long time," said Radosh.

"The New Republic was something that was unique. And it’s not going to be with Chris Hughes. He doesn’t come from that kind of background."

Robert Kagan, whose essay Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire defending American global leadership was one of the most discussed TNR pieces of the year, said he did not think the magazine was worth reading without Wieseltier.

"I resigned because Leon resigned," Kagan said. "In fact, the only part of the magazine I thought was worth a damn were the ‘back-of-the-book’ pages Leon controlled."

Others were circumspect about TNR’s future. While former editor Michael Kinsley told the New York Times on Monday that he found Hughes’s proposals for the publication "vague and cliché-ridden," he added that the current owner should do what he wants with the magazine.

"We live in a capitalistic society, and that’s something that The New Republic has historically stood for," Kinsley told the Times. "It’s his magazine, and if he wants to wreck it, he can."