New Republic Confronts Its 'Perceived Legacy Of Racism' In First Issue Since Staff Exodus

An upcoming issue of The New Republic -- the magazine's first since a large number of its writers and editors resigned in December -- will grapple with TNR's "perceived legacy of racism" in a 4,000-word cover story by Canadian journalist Jeet Heer.

Last month, amid the barrage of criticism aimed at owner Chris Hughes -- who'd just seen most of his staff resign in protest after Hughes forced out editor Franklin Foer -- a number of writers offered pointed critiques of the way the magazine has handled issues of race over the years. On Dec. 5, Heer -- who has a habit of publishing in-depth arguments, bit by bit, via his Twitter account -- posted a lengthy takedown of TNR, calling it a "voice of technocratic Ivy League liberalism" and slamming the magazine for only treating the topic of race as "a thought experiment." On Dec. 9, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates similarly scolded TNR in an essay, writing that "black lives didn't matter much at all to the magazine."

Heer's story, which TNR made available online Thursday, delves into the history of The New Republic, examining the periods when Heer says the magazine was better on issues of race and diversity -- such as from the late 1930s to the mid-1970s -- as well as its time under Martin Peretz, the magazine's controversial former owner and editor-in-chief.

Peretz was known for making inflammatory statements about minorities, including references to the supposed cultural and characteristic "deficiencies" of black people and of "Latin society." In particular, Peretz had a record of slandering Muslims and Islam, in 2010 going as far as to call Muslim life "cheap" and suggest that people who follow Islam should be deprived of their First Amendment rights (remarks for which he later partially apologized).

"How could a magazine which published much excellent on-the-ground reporting on the unforgivable sins visited upon black America by white America -- lynchings, legal frame-ups, political disenfranchisement and more -- also give credence to toxic and damaging racial theorizing, as recently as the 1990’s?" Heer writes in his piece. "And why has The New Republic had only a handful of black editorial staff members in over a hundred years?"

The magazine, which celebrated its centennial last year, has a complex legacy, one not without serious blemishes when it comes to race. Both Heer and Coates fault TNR for publishing excerpts from The Bell Curve, a 1994 book by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray that has been widely denounced as advancing specious claims about the supposed link between race and intelligence. And in 1996, reporter Stephen Glass' fabricated story "Taxi Cabs and the Meaning of Work" depicted black people in D.C. as violent and willfully lazy. Coates has said that Glass' piece invokes "every odious stereotype from Steppin Fetchit [sic] to Bruce Lee to Willie Horton," and has called it "by far the most racist article I've ever read."

In his story, Heer argues that the publication must grapple with instances of racism in its past in order to move forward.

"The New Republic owes an accounting to itself, its critics and its readers; an honest reckoning on where it has gone wrong is the necessary first step to figuring out how to do better," he writes. "How can this magazine -- or any legacy institution -- come to terms with a blighted legacy on race and transcend it?"

In a Dec. 22 letter to readers, Gabriel Snyder, the magazine's new editor-in-chief, said that he intends to address the staff's diversity woes as the publication moves forward and rebuilds itself.

"As we revive one proud legacy of The New Republic -- the launching of new voices and experts -- those new voices and experts will be diverse in race, gender, and background," Snyder wrote. "As we build our editorial staff, we will reach out to talented journalists who might have previously felt unwelcome at The New Republic. If this publication is to be influential, and not merely survive, it can no longer afford to represent the views of one privileged class, nor appeal solely to a small demographic of political elites."

You can read Heer's entire story here.