’s hard to imagine, but The New Yorker started out in the 1920s as a humorist publication. Founded by the redoubtable Harold Ross, it not only survived the New York media jungle, it also became a touchstone of first-rate fiction, essays and reportage. Such greats as James Thurber, S.J. Perelman, A.J. Liebling, Edmund Wilson, John O’Hara, Roger Angell, J.D. Salinger, John Updike and John Cheever all graced its pages.
For too long, it has been caught in up polemics. When The New Yorker makes the news, it is now for controversy over current events, not for discovering exciting talent. Recently, its editors invited Steve Bannon to speak at a public forum. Bannon isn’t our idea of a conservative intellectual, but he is a man of erudition who fancies himself as a major player in the nationalist movements sweeping Europe and America. When news broke of Bannon’s appearance, other panelists protested to the point where the editor, David Remnick, had to back down and disinvite Bannon.
As bad has been the publication of an article in which a Yale University co-ed from the 1980s accused Brett Kavanaugh of obsence behavior. The article, as it turns out, had been rejected by The New York Times, whose editors promptly eviscerated the article’s veracity. Efforts by both parties to have the accuser testify before Senate Judiciary proved unsuccessful. There was a reason for that.
The New Yorker showed real guts with the Harvey Weinstein expose. That success emboldened this disaster, but a bid to stop a Supreme Court nomination was just as enticing. “He recoiled in horror from a totally politicized world,” so wrote M.E. Bradford, the great constitutional scholar on Patrick Henry, the orator of The American Revolution. A totally politicized world is where the country has landed. Goodbye to poetry and fiction, music and criticism, things that administer to the life of the soul and, with luck, the commonweal? We also cite the Austrian philosopher Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, who maintained that a politicized society becomes a thoroughly totalitarian one. It’s a sobering thought—and a recipe for endless conflict.