Phony Concern for National Review's Reputation


Media reporter Tim Arango made concerned noises in his Monday Business section story, "At National Review, a Threat to Its Reputation for Erudition," over the Internet-bred "coarsening" that's apparently come over the flagship conservative publication.

In a span of 252 days, the National Review lost two Buckleys - one to death, another to resignation - and an election.

Now, thanks to the coarsening effect of the Internet on political discourse, the magazine may have lost something else: its reputation as the cradle for conservative intellectuals and home for erudite and well-mannered debate prized by its founder, the late William F. Buckley Jr.

In the general conservative blogosphere and in The Corner, National Review's popular blog, the tenor of debate - particularly as it related to the fitness of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to be vice president - devolved into open nastiness during the campaign season, laying bare debates among conservatives that in a pre-Internet age may have been kept behind closed doors.

National Review, as the most pedigreed voice of conservatives, has often been tainted - unfairly and by association, some argue - by the tone of blogs, reader comments and e-mail messages. "Bill was always very concerned about having a high-minded and thoughtful discourse," Rich Lowry, the magazine's editor, said. "If you read the magazine, that's what it was and that's what it is."

As National Review's John J. Miller hinted on The Corner in response, the Times' concern seems rooted in phony regrets about a past "principled" conservatism (one the paperdidn't respect either, having called the mag "far right" in February 2005). Miller wrote:

Liberals who try to write thoughtful articles about trends in conservatism often return to a familiar theme: If only today's conservatives were as genteel and principled as the conservatives of yore. The NYT takes this tack this morning with a piece headlined "At National Review, a Threat to Its Reputation for Erudition." The web is apparently coarsening us: We are "tainted ... by the tone of blogs, reader comments, and e-mail messages." Whatever. (Technically, we don't even have reader comments on NRO, though many of us do post emails we've received on these here internets.)

After Arango talked about the resignation of Christopher Buckley and David Frum, he forwarded off-tone criticism of National Review:

A frequent criticism is that the magazine has become a megaphone for Republican Party orthodoxy - and in these appraisals is a longing for the intellectual firepower of Mr. Buckley, and the surprise twists in his views.

Really? Neither National Review or National Review Online have been safe havens for George W. Bush's liberal administration policies, like amnesty for illegals and Medicare spending.