August 24, 2004


Kevin Holtsberry

Official Right Wing Watchdog here again! I can understand your disagreement with Brookhiser's politics but he is anything but an "right-wing clown." He is a respected and talented historical biographer and essayist. There are plenty of conservative pundits and talking heads for whom I have little respect even if I am largely in agreement with their political positions, but Richard Brookhiser is a scholar and writer with a great deal of talent and intelligenece.

As to your question about the line between editors and contributors, I think it is up to readers and fellow writers to determine if the quality is there. If a journal or magazine becomes simply a place for the same old ideas to be trotted out or if editorial standards seem to slip and this allows less talented writers to get published at the expense of those with talent but without connections then readers and critics should point that out. I don't think there is a greal deal to be gained by a legalistic approach, rather quality and intelligence should be the guide.

Again, lit blogs can play a role here. They can be a communication tool that allows readers and writers to discuss these issues and help shape reputations and set standards.


If I were Sam Tanenhaus for a day, I would assign the review to Ryan Lizza. Is he a leftie? I suspect he may be but don't know -- I just always enjoy his articles in The New Republic. He's wry and funny and yet ever so scrutinizing.

Your second question: A problem with publishing one's colleagues would be editing one's colleagues. It seems like that would call for strength of mind, to say, "Sorry, F.R. It's back to the drawing board for you." And I think we've all seen publications where a certain amount of slackness has crept in there.

Another pitfall of this type of venture seems to be the potential for a sameness of voice to creep in -- as the writers begins to identify a group voice and (unconsciously or consciously) ape its style. I seem to remember an anecdote about the early days of the New Yorker and Ross fulminating about the high neurotic tone that had become de rigeur for the Talk of the Town pieces. Does anyone else recall this story? Someone had written a piece about going to the theater and getting fainty at the event and Ross drew the line there.

My point is, that this is perhaps one of the roots of the distrust of the blurring of lines: Sameness of voice?


Seconding Kevin's first point--I'm no fan of the right, but Richard Brookhiser is hardly in the same league as, say, George Will or even Leon Wieseltier as far as "clownish" writing is concerned.

But I'd have tried to assign the review to Hunter S. Thompson anyway.

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