Backed by millions, Chris Hughes hurdles vacuously forward in the vanguard of a cultural revolution which bodes to be as extensive and chaotic as, and, alas, more enduring than, Chairman Mao’s. He has been turned into a somewhat iconic figure by being characterized as Lucas Pruit, the villain in the TV show, The Newsroom. Pruit is an accidental billionaire nincompoop who buys the news channel with plans to turn it into an internet gossip hub. Basically, that is pretty much Chris Hughes’ plan for The New Republic.
My friends are amazed that my prediction of ten years ago that Al Sharpton some day would become a respected and serious (as opposed to ridiculous) figure in the public landscape has come true. Now I am amazed, because I never would have predicted that the pompous Zionist liberal hawk, Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic's literary editor, would become a cultural hero, which he has done by defying Hughes, a purveyor of even more dire evils, and resigning.
Locally, we were able to bask in Hughes’ arrogance this year when his husband, with no qualifications other than that he was the spouse of a billionaire, ran for Congress. The guy, clearly a West Coast carpetbagger – they moved here from the Silicone Valley in 2013 – was trounced. Unfortunately, there is no electorate to decide the fate of The New Republic.
Joe Nocera wrote a good column about the debacle in The Times a few days ago, which ends:
When I spoke to Vidra [Guy Vidra, The New Republic’s new CEO, previously with Yahoo] late Monday, he stressed to me that The New Republic was not going to abandon its heritage of thoughtful journalism and provocative ideas. When I asked him whether he would follow the model of The Atlantic, he demurred. He instead suggested that Vox Media was a more appropriate model for what he had in mind.
After we spoke, I went to the Vox website. I scrolled down until I saw a headline that stopped me cold. “Everybody farts,” it read. “But here are 9 surprising facts about flatulence you may not know.”
Goodbye, New Republic.
The divide between Hughes’ vision and that of the old guard of the New Republic, most of whom have resigned, is not political, it is philosophical. (While I’m sure The New Republic old guard would see it that way, I’m not sure that Hughes has a clear enough sense of the other, of the potential for intelligent life outside of the self, to understand what philosophy is.) In one world view, the success or failure of a project to communicate with others depends on the quality of the communication; in the other view, success depends on quantity, on reaching as great a number of people as possible. In the interconnected world view of Hughes et. al., the content of communication is unimportant; the success or failure of communication can be judged by the number of individuals contributing to the cacophony.
My sense is – I may be wrong – that to Hughes the financial success of the new New Republic is secondary to its success as a concept. He expects it to be profitable, but would be okay with it if it were not. What is important is for it to achieve enough of an internet presence to assuage whatever feelings of inferiority beset him from playing second fiddle to Zuckerberg.