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What Peretz Has Done to The New Republic

By Clark Mason

If Marty Peretz were writing an article on the changes The New Republic has undergone since he bought it he would say that he is trying to revive the old tradition of The New Republic or as the magazine said in 1914, "to create a little insurrection in men's minds." Peretz says The New Republic had developed a "knee jerk liberal" quality in recent years and that he would like it to be "less predictable without sacrificing its fundamental liberal commitment." Peretz wants to make it a place where controversy exists. To that extent he has succeeded.

Martin H. Peretz, lecturer on Social Studies, gave up his position as master of South House last June in order to devote full time to his recent purchase, The New Republic--the liberal, intellectual weekly magazine of politics and arts.

It is a magazine that congressmen and editors have always liked to read. Liberals in search of an opinion could find out what to think in often long, detailed articles, that made important and sometimes boring reading. Its reputation has been established by the contributions of such notables as Walter Lippmann '10, George Santayana '86, George Bernard Shaw, and Bertrand Russell. Peretz describes his readership as "over-educated, over-politicized, and over-affluent...the opinion-making elite."

However, some of Peretz's critics charge that his ardent Zionism is giving the magazine a new kind of predictability, not only in its treatment of the Middle East, but the rest of the world. Disgruntled former members of the staff say his yardstick for all matters is how they affect Israel, that his hawkish position on Israel has had a ripple effect on other issues. One of them cynically suggests that the magazine be renamed "The Middle East..And the Rest of The World."

An incident that Peretz's critics say illustrates the effects of his pro-Israeli convictions centered around the resignation of Stanley Karnow '45, foreign editor of The New Republic for two years, who quit last May. Things "came to a head," Karnow recalls, a day or two before the deadline of the May 24 issue, when President Ford announced that the United States had retaken the freighter Mayaguez after Cambodia had seized it. Karnow then wrote a two-paragraph editorial, that was mildly critical of U.S. policy and said that the military operation was staged "to rescue U.S. honor in wake of the Indochina debacle."

Karnow says he then suggested to Peretz that "we write an editorial examining everything," a more detailed criticism for the following issue. "Peretz told me he was in favor of what the government did," Karnow says and he speculates that Peretz was in basic agreement with the U.S. actions because they set a precedent for military intervention on behalf of Israel.

Peretz's version of the story goes that Karnow had not written anything in a month because he was engrossed in researching an article on Henry A. Kissinger '50. Peretz says he told him to finish the article on Kissinger before writing anything on Mayaguez.

In any case, the next issue came and went with no mention of Mayaguez, something Karnow considered inexcusable. This incident, compounded with other differences Peretz and Karnow were having, was enough to make Karnow resign.

Karnow says now that David Sanford, managing editor of The New Republic, told him that the reason Peretz didn't write the editorial was because "he didn't want to alienate the liberal readers."

But Karnow's statement just shows how hard it is to get people to agree on what Peretz is doing. Sanford denies Karnow's attribution as "bullshit." Karnow, who is sour about the affair, isn't surprised by Sanford's denial and says that since Sanford is still working for Peretz he can't be critical of Peretz. But Sanford defends Peretz because, he says, Peretz didn't have the reflexive reaction to Mayaguez that Karnow had, that Peretz thought it would be premature to write about it. And, finally, in the list of charges and countercharges, Peretz says that it was inconceivable, given his record of involvement in the anti-war movement, that he would have approved of the way the government handled the Mayaguez affair; "I don't know," he adds, "what implications it had for Israel."

Peretz gets angry when he hears the accusation that his Zionism was involved in Karnow's resignation. Karnow is trying to give their squabble more substance than it had, Peretz says. He calls Karnow a "whiner," "a perpetual malcontent," and a "kvetch." Karnow's expensive habits were a main source of friction between them, Peretz says; Karnow had a predilection for dining in fancy, expensive French restaurants with news sources and charging it to Peretz. Peretz says he was also charged with Karnow's long-distance phone calls to his friends.

Karnow in reply says that Peretz never raised any issues of expenses with him and that Peretz is trying to demean him in the easiest way. "He's trying to drown the issues between us in that kind of trivia...his arguments on that subject merely reveal his pettiness," he says. Karnow also says he has repaid Peretz for everything he owed him.

The next head to roll at The New Republic was the executive editor's. Peretz was reading Time magazine in his office the week after Karnow quit, he recalls. An article on the events at The New Republic quoted some remarks by Walter Pincus, the executive editor, who specialized in articles on Watergate. (A "Watergate obsessive," Peretz says.) Time reported that Pincus was disconsolate and would quit soon. Pincus told Time that Peretz was "a guy on an ego trip who doesn't know where he wants to go." That was enough for Peretz. As he recalls, he put down the magazine, walked into Pincus's office and said: "Walter, I read in Time that you say I don't know where I'm going. Well I know where you're going--out!"

Pincus says he has not read The New Republic since he was fired. Like Karnow, he levels charges of non professionalism at Peretz and says that Peretz's ideology sometimes influences the presentation of his facts. Pincus cites an article by Tad Szulc that appeared in The New Republic in June claiming Soviet violations of the SALT agreements. The piece made it seem as though the USSR was the only violator, Pincus says; it was ironically pro-U.S. military. He attributes the bias to Zionist criticism of the Soviet Union. "You can let the ideology come out in your conclusion but you have to offer the reader the basic facts," says Pincus who is now a consultant to NBC news.

Pincus's reaction can be attributed to sour grapes, Peretz says. Pincus reportedly wanted to buy the magazine with some friends, and when Peretz purchased it, Peretz says, "he was critical of my inheriting his role."

Peretz has taken the opportunity to express his position in editorials, arguing against Israel's returning to its pre-1967 war boundaries and, according to Newsweek, suggesting invasion as an option to protect U.S. oil interests in the Middle East.

An item count shows appreciably greater number of Middle East stories since Peretz took over, something managing editor David Sanford, says can be justified by the increasing importance of the Middle East in international politics.

In one of the more salient examples of Peretz's sense of priorities, he gave Theodore Draper six pages in one issue to attack Noam Chomsky's book, "Peace in the Middle East," which was critical of Israel. Peretz allowed Chomsky to defend himself in a subsequent issue.

Peretz does not feel he has to offer any apologies for the magazine's increased focus on the Middle East. He is irritated by questions about how his Zionism is affecting his magazine or how his readers react to the new emphasis. He recognizes what he calls "the truculence in my voice," when he addresses himself to the issue, and adds that he feels neither "hesitant nor defensive," about stressing the importance of the Middle East.

Peretz was an active protestor of the Vietnam War at a very early period, when, he recalls, he heard that President Kennedy was sending 15,000 troops to Vietnam. He sees a similarity between his involvement then and his strong pro-Israel commitment now. He says that on the "scale of history," his ideological preoccupation with the Middle East will prove to be justified. "I don't want to hide how important I think the Middle East situation is both for America and people of conscience," he says.

Besides, The New Republic has historically been pro-Zionist, Peretz says, even when Israel was "a wild gleam in the eye of some madman."

Michael Walzer, professor of Government and a friend of Peretz since their undergraduate Brandeis days together, has a similar view of the Middle East. Peretz has made him a contributing editor. Walzer says that the change in The New Republic's position on Israel policy is measurable, but only in "small units."

Marty isn't miles away from where The New Republic used to be he's inches and feet away," Walzer says. "Israel right now is in the very center of international politics. The Middle East is one of the major areas of American commitment...Marty is allowing that importance to be reflected in the magazine without a kind of Jewish anxiety about doing it."

Doris Grumbach, former literary editor of The New Republic, whom Peretz fired in June, says that her dispute with Peretz was not political but literary. She adds, however, that Peretz's heavy insistence on books of his ideology and ethnic origins was a little onerous."

In a telephone interview with Peretz, it was pointed out to him that a recent issue of The New Republic had two book reviews on Israel. One was on the Israeli army and the other on women in the kibbutz. Peretz replied angrily that he had previously noticed this and his explanation is that the same issue contained two reviews pertaining to Africa. Sure enough the issue contained a review of a Nigerian author's book and another on art from Zaire.

But the second article made conspicuous mention that "Americans too will recognize a gesture of amity by one of the 21 African nations that did not vote yes to the anti-Zionist resolution at the UN."

In addition, a review of Christopher Rand's book, Making Democracy Safe for Oil, spoke of U.S. collaboration with the oil cartel. In 1970, the review said, the United States could have stopped the cartel on its way to power, and collaboration went on through the oil embargo of 1973, "which received encouragement from the State Department."

The same issue also contained a three and a half page article by Daniel Yergin, research fellow at Harvard's Center for International Affairs, entitled "OPEC Imperium."

Peretz's first year at The New Republic was also marked by conflict with his editor-in-chief Gilbert Harrison, ending with Harrison's resignation in January. It is not unusual that the new owner of a magazine should change the masthead. What is unusual is that Peretz and Harrison agreed to sell Peretz The New Republic for $380,000. Then they drew up an ill-conceived and ambiguous contract that allowed the former owner to stay on as editor-in-chief and that caused immediate quarrels over who would control the magazine.

Richard L. Strout '19, who writes under the column-head TRB for The New Republic (Strout says the title is the reverse of the initials of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit, hastily improvised under deadline years ago) says of the Peretz-Harrison arrangement, "I don't see how any same person would have thought it would last." The arrangement for Peretz to be Harrison's apprentice but also owner of the magazine was an "artificial situation with a built-in conflict," Strout says.

The clincher that gave Peretz final authority in the dispute was a clause saying "the seller will serve the buyer's best interests." The agreement was that Harrison would stay on for a three year grace period while Peretz learned the ropes. This arrangement, Peretz says, caused one of his friends, a "shrewd" businessman, to say, "This kind of two-headed monster will never last."

Peretz says that Harrison wanted to sell the magazine and still have it, that he expected him to be an absentee owner. Peretz says he did not encourage Harrison in that view. While Harrison does not publicly attack Peretz, friends say that he feels betrayed. One source who wishes to remain unknown says Harrison told him that selling The New Republic to Peretz was "the biggest mistake I ever made."

Apparently the only message which got through to Karnow, Pincus, and Grumbach about the new man in the owner's office was that Peretz was serving an apprenticeship and they didn't, Karnow said, expect him to "throw his weight around the way he did."

The man who wasn't expected to throw his weight around the way he did says that right now he is having more fun than he's had in years. Peretz says that he has found an outlet for his "political, intellectual, literary and entrepreneurial tendencies," and that The New Republic "is right for me."

He is proud of the other changes he has brought to the magazine, notably the arts section where Roger Rosenblatt, former Dunster House master and assistant professor of English, has replaced Grumbach as literary editor.

Peretz acknowledges that the editors who left the magazine charge him with unprofessionalism, but he bristles, "What the fuck do they know?" He adds the observation that you don't go to school to become a professional editor. Walzer says that Peretz's particular skill in bringing off a marriage between author and subject. And members of the staff says that Peretz beats the bushes for new writers.

As for those members of the staff who disagreed with Peretz's perception, they didn't have much to do with The New Republic very long. Stanley Karnow is now writing a syndicated column out of Washington and a book on the CIA. And Karnow has not read The New Republic since Peretz cut off his subscription the week after he left.

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