The Other McCain

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Podhoretz ‘Evolves’ on Gay Marriage; Editorial Insubordination, Not So Much

Posted on | November 11, 2012 | 22 Comments

Donald Douglas calls to our attention an interesting internecine quarrel at Commentary, where their freelance literary critic David Myers has been terminated because of a dispute that Myers claims was about gay marriage, but which the magazine’s editor John Podhoretz says was in fact about acts of insubordination by Myers:

What I did not like, and what I could not accept, was that David had decided unilaterally to convert [his blog] Literary Commentary  into a sociopolitical blog without a moment’s consultation. This I considered an uncollegial and insubordinate act,and I’m afraid it was not the first of these. I would not have allowed him to do so had he asked; I might have considered publishing the item on this blog, though to tell you the truth, I found his take goopy and overheated.
But the issue was not the content. He did not have the authority to redefine his blog in this fashion. This is something he clearly accepted and understood in the past, because there have been times when he has reverted to his old blog, A Commonplace Blog, as he did tonight, to publish things he clearly understood were beyond the scope of Literary Commentary.

Hear! Hear! The authority of the editor-in-chief is beyond question. This is one of the fundamental principles of journalism: Someone must be in charge of the organization. The Boss may rule with an iron hand or he may give his staff wide discretion, but either way, the ultimate authority of The Boss cannot be defied by his subordinates. Otherwise the editor’s title is meaningless and anarchy will ensue.

It is worth noting that David Myers has been writing for Commentary for more than two decades and that we should properly call him Professor Myers, as he has a Ph.D. and is on the faculty of Ohio State University. This is perhaps a generational quarrel: Professor Myers began writing for Commentary when Norman Podhoretz was the editor, and may not have extended to the son the same respect he had for the father.

On the other hand, this may be a culture clash between the journalistic world and the academic world within which Professor Myers earns his daily bread. Inhabitants of the faculty lounges make much of what William F. Buckley Jr. famously called “the superstition of academic freedom,” and Professor Myers evidently thought he could smuggle that superstition into Commentary without bothering to notify the editor. He admits as much:

What’s more, as an academic for more than twenty years, I have become too comfortable with intellectual autonomy; I clearly and admittedly did not show the proper deference to Mr Podhoretz’s authority.

Let us also note that Commentary is a monthly magazine which, in the Internet age, has also become an up-to-the-minute source for online news, analysis and opinion. This is similarly true for The American Spectator, where I write, as for nearly every other established publication: To remain relevant, one must be online, and to be relevant online, one must continually generate fresh content. Thus the publication that is monthly (or weekly or fortnightly) in print has no choice but to be as contemporaneous as the Associated Press when it comes to reporting, aggregating and commenting on breaking news developments.

Just yesterday, for example, I cited a Commentary report by Bethany Mandel describing the Romney campaign’s ORCA debacle. This is the kind of current-events reporting that a monthly magazine would scarcely have touched in the print-only era; by the time Commentary could have published a magazine article about the ORCA project, the story already would have been picked apart by the daily newspapers and weekly news magazines. Yet the equalizing effect of the Internet permits — really, requires — John Podhoretz’s staff to compete with every other news organization in the world and, in the case of Mandel’s ORCA article, we may say that Commentary has beaten the digital vestiges of Newsweek and Time.

All this is a long way around to explaining why Podhoretz is correct to insist on his prerogative to enforce adherence to editorial procedure. His role is less and less like the editor of a monthly highbrow journal, and more and more like the city-desk boss at a daily newspaper. And anyone who ever worked in the newspaper business knows better than to contest the authority of the city editor.

As to the topic of gay marriage, there is actually no fundamental quarrel between Myers and Podhoretz, as the latter makes clear:

As it happens, like our president, I was for a long time an opponent of gay marriage. I am not any longer—indeed, I am relieved that on Tuesday night citizens of four states chose freely to allow gay marriage within their borders rather than having such a thing imposed through judicial fiat. However, I am deeply respectful of those traditionalists who stand in opposition to it for profound reasons of conscience and faith and do not deserve to have the word “bigot” hurled unjustly at them. David Myers is himself an Orthodox Jew, and official Orthodox Jewry certainly does not share his views of gay marriage; I doubt he considers the Orthodox rabbinate institutionally evil.

This declaration of unprincipled pragmatism is scarcely encouraging, and one imagines that enforcing conformity to this New Pragmatism will require further purges — Goldilocks-like, the Podhoretzian embrace of gay marriage must be neither too hot nor too cold — but his authority as editorial enforcer is unlimited. The publishers of Commentary must either support Podhoretz 100% in the exercise of that authority, or else find themselves a new editor.

UPDATE: David Myers e-mails a correction, saying that he “started writing for the magazine when Neal Kozodoy was the editor.”


22 Responses to “Podhoretz ‘Evolves’ on Gay Marriage; Editorial Insubordination, Not So Much”

  1. Kevin Trainor Jr.
    November 11th, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

    Kevin Trainor Jr. liked this on Facebook.

  2. reg1971la
    November 11th, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    My problem with gay marriage isn’t that two people of the same sex can live together and consider themselves to be married. My problem is with the government endorsing their social arrangement, basically proclaiming it to be the same thing as a traditional marriage. The solution to me is to get the government out of all marriage entirely. Governemnt shouldn’t proclaim what is marriage and what is not period.

  3. Adobe_Walls
    November 11th, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

    The boss is the boss, few businesses could survive as democracies let alone anarchy’s.

  4. dad29
    November 11th, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

    However, I am deeply respectful of those traditionalists who stand in
    opposition to it for profound reasons of conscience and faith

    Can this man be THAT stupid?

    This is first a matter of Nature–THEN a matter of “faith”–and finally, a matter of conscience.

    It is surprising that someone so allegedly erudite cannot distinguish between those categories. However, it is a demonstration of the phrase “educated beyond his intelligence.”

  5. gvanderleun
    November 11th, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

    Podhertz, for a smart man, is drinking from his own drool cup.

  6. Bob Belvedere
    November 11th, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

    As my father, who started and ran several companies and ran a government agency, likes to say: ‘This is not a Democracy; it is a benevolent dictatorship’.

  7. Bob Belvedere
    November 11th, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

    Well put!

  8. Adobe_Walls
    November 11th, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    I often found myself having to explain to my “people” that a construction site was not a democracy but rather a linear hierarchy

  9. Tennwriter
    November 11th, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

    jCan we fire them both?

  10. Nan
    November 11th, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

    Wow, he definitely needs to fact check! Gay marriage is still prohibited by law in MN, the prohibition didn’t make it into the constitution.

  11. Quartermaster
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

    He’s pretty much said it all. The Rockwellites used to ridicule the “Pod People.” It was one of the few things agreed with them on.

  12. Bob Belvedere
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:27 pm

    Methinks my father said it the way he did because he always had a soft spot for Papa Doc.

  13. Bob Belvedere
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:28 pm

    Considering his last name, hasn’t he, in a sense, been a ‘Pod’ person all his life???

  14. Bob Belvedere
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

    This is good. We now know onece and for all that Podhoretz is not on our side in any way, even though he did the right thing as a boss.

  15. Bob Belvedere
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

    This post-Election time is a good one to sort the patriots from the poser-Patriots.

  16. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    Businesses are not democracies.

    I am for gay marriage provided they do it democratically through state legislatures or referendums.

    Commentary is a good publication, but it obviously has some things it needs to work out.

  17. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    November 11th, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

    I agree, to a point. Marriage is a social property-right construct (as it pertains to the state) beyond the sacrament. I have no problem with gays experiencing divorce court and having those limited rights traditional married couples get. As for retirement and other benefits, that should be a construct of time and duration and children.

  18. fondatori
    November 11th, 2012 @ 10:16 pm

    Nicely put. And if he is so respectful, why does he apparently support pro gay marriage laws which force those who do not believe in the absurd institution of gay marriage to recognize it?

  19. John Scotus
    November 11th, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

    The editor is the final word. Any author who does not understand that (and many don’t) does not have a clue how publishing works. The day authors get to decide everything is the day I find another line of business.

    Not really sure how one can be deeply respectful of traditionalists and still be in favor of gay marriage. One could say, in the same way, that a person might be deeply respectful of African Americans and yet still be in favor of belittling them, treating them as Neanderthals, and destroying their traditions. Not an exact parallel, but the same logical fallacy. Part of respect is leaving things that belong to others–such as traditions–alone.

  20. RichFader
    November 11th, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

    “…goopy and overheated…”


  21. el_polacko
    November 12th, 2012 @ 1:19 am

    so…if ‘marriage’ is entirely left up to religions and there are religions who will marry gay couples, then you are cool with that ? and then what about government benefits given to ‘married’ couples ?? no more benefits for anybody or do we just stop all this silliness and let gay people choose their ‘spouse’ and be married just like everybody else ?

  22. el_polacko
    November 12th, 2012 @ 1:21 am

    of course… marriage licenses are issued by the state, not the vatican. not sure why you expect gay people to have more ‘contruct of time and duration and children’ than is expected from straight couples though.