Frank Times: Goodbye to the 'New Yorker'

As an avid reader and subscriber to the iconic New Yorker magazine for over 50 years, I am sad to be allowing my subscription to expire. But I am. Here’s why.
Since its founding in 1925, The New Yorker has been a cultural, literary landmark, not a partisan political screed. However, under the editorship of David Remnick (1998-present), politics has come to the fore. In fact, the first thing one sees on opening the magazine is the famed “Talk of the Town” section. Previously, one could settle in for a quirky take on some random subject by literary giants such as Joseph Mitchell, E.B. White, Ian Frazier, John McPhee and Lillian Ross.
Today, one is greeted by the harsh, uncivil rants of the likes of Hendrick Hertzberg (according to Harvard Magazine, Hertzberg, a former New Republic editor and Jimmy Carter speech writer, is the “urbane voice of liberalism”). A typical Hertzberg “Talk” piece referred to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as “Netanyahoo” and called him a “mendacious mouse.”
It is not so much the substance of these pieces that offends. It’s the highly predictable, and not particularly insightful, nature of these comments that makes one question why one is spending precious time reading these shallow missives. If one wants to subscribe to a ideologically correct partisan political magazine, there are always the New Republic, The Nation, or The Weekly Standard, among others, to choose from.
Meanwhile, as Remnick makes more room for his brand of politics, he is less liberal in his allowance for other, more traditional New Yorker cultural fare, such as architecture. Paul Goldberger, the renowned architecture critic of The New Yorker for the past 15 years, decamped for Vanity Fair, in part because it was getting increasingly difficult to get his ground-breaking reporting into the Magazine (says Goldberger: “David has... mixed feelings about the architecture column”).
Also, under Remnick’s reign, The New Yorker, and particularly Remnick himself, repeatedly and obsessively focuses on what Remnick perceives to be the failings of the State of Israel, as he did in a Talk of the Town “Comment” (now posted prominently on the website of “Intifada – The Voice of Palestine”).
In this diatribe, Remnick crosses the line of rationality, putting Israel in the same category of countries “embroiled in a crisis of democratic becoming” as Egypt and Syria, decrying “emboldened fundamentalists” (in Israel) who “flaunt an increasingly aggressive medievalism,” and speaking of a “descent into apartheid, xenophobia, and isolation” on the part of Israel.
Why Remnick chooses singularly to obsess about the Israel-Palestinian conflict (with an unabashedly anti- Israel bias), while rarely, if ever, commenting on other conflicts where millions of people also were displaced in war (in Kashmir or Armenia, for example), remains a mystery. In his Talk Comment, Remnick chose to highlight a recent incident where an Orthodox rabbi reportedly spat upon a young schoolgirl because he considered her attire to be “insufficiently demure.”
Of course, this is not acceptable behavior.
But why does Remnick devote valuable New Yorker real estate to such trivial matters, while ignoring much more grievous violations of human rights elsewhere (the death penalty for gays in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and other Arab countries, the complete subjugation of women under Islamic law, including routine violence against women)? One can only surmise that Remnick is working out his own conflicted identity issues (Remnick was born of Jewish parents in Hackensack, New Jersey) on the company dime.
While these issues with The New Yorker might be neatly categorized and dismissed as those of a certain demographic the magazine is no longer interested in, it will be harder to dismiss this final objection. Under Remnick’s reign, the always interesting New Yorker has become, well, just boring. Although Tina Brown was often rightly criticized during her tenure as editor of The New Yorker, at least, during her time, the magazine had “buzz” and was “must” reading because the articles would be the subject of “water cooler” conversations the day after each issue appeared.
These days, subscribers’ weekly issues pile up on their bedside tables for months at a time, until they get around to leafing through an issue for the occasional interesting piece and glancing at the cartoons. Recent issues have featured such odd and dated pieces as “Albert Camus’s battles,” “The Return of Van Halen,” “The Food Renaissance in Baja,” “The Rise of the post 9/11 Canine unit,” and “Dentists without Borders.”
Not exactly compelling reading.
Remnick receives over one million dollars in salary per year (plus a limousine and driver), in spite of the fact that his only previous editorial experience was at his high-school newspaper. It was at least understandable why Si Newhouse (chairman of Conde Nast, which publishes The New Yorker) once thought it worthwhile to pay the big bucks and subsidize a money-losing concern such as the New Yorker for its “prestige” value. But why does he continue to support it when it has become a tired, political rag for the anti- Israel crowd? Perhaps Newhouse has his reasons for doing so. I do not.
The writer is an attorney and writer in Washington, DC. This article originally appeared in slightly different form as an Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post.