Also resigning from TNRPosted: December 5, 2014
Many readers may not know that in the distinguished list of The New Republic writers and editors: W. E. B Dubois, John Maynard Keynes and George Orwell in the way back days, more recently Chloe Schama, Michael Kinsey, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Kelly, Jon Chait, Peter Beinart, Adam Kirsch, Julia Ioffe, TA Frank, William Deresiewicz, Ryan Lizza, on and on, the very last name on the list should be Steve Hely.
Around 2004 I wrote some humor pieces for TNR. (I think they only ran online, never in print, but I might be wrong about that). I went looking for them yesterday in light of today’s news about drama at the magazine.
Contra the claim that nothing ever goes away on the Internet, they are blessedly hard to find. To my tremendous relief, because they are garbage, embarrassing to me now. But I guess that’s how your ten year old writing should be.
The number one writing tip I’d say I learned from rereading these pieces is DO NOT USE ADVERBS. A rule I violated three sentences ago, but still.
A word here by the way about “pedigree” and journalistic connections.
Ta-Nahesi Coates and others make some valid points about TNR’s tendency to be all white people of certain stripe, and to have a blindness, deafness, ignorance, sometimes even aggressive tone on race.
More at his feed, which is worth reading.
I myself got the chance to try writing humor pieces there because a guy I knew from Harvard who worked at TNR recommended me. He’d been on The Harvard Crimson, and no doubt that helped him work there.
Networks and connections are always part of how humans function. But it’s worth taking frequent hard looks at who’s getting left out of systems like that, and why. Would I have gotten this chance if I hadn’t gone to Harvard? Prolly not. Was the roster of TNR almost all grads of the kinds of colleges you can only get into if a lot of people are helping you and steering you from very early on in your life? No doubt. Does that leave a ton of smart, interesting people with valuable insights, necessary viewpoints, and fresh perspectives shut out? Yes.
See Chris Rock talking about The Harvard Lampoon over here:
Fifteen years ago, I tried to create an equivalent to The Harvard Lampoon at Howard University, to give young black comedy writers the same opportunity that white comedy writers have. I wish we could’ve made it work. The reason it worked at Harvard and not at Howard is that the kids at Howard need money. It’s that simple. Kids at Harvard come from money — even the broke ones come from money. They can afford to work at a newspaper and make no money. The kids at Howard are like, “Dude, I love comedy, but I’ve got a f—ing tuition that I’ve got to pay for here.” But that was 15 years ago; it might be easier to do it now because of the Internet. I don’t know.
(I was a minuscule part of this, too, actually: president of The Lampoon at the time, I got invited down to Howard for the launch of The Illtop. It was really fun, my hosts were really gracious and cool and it was rad to visit Howard. Frats were putting on stepping shows on campus – it was awesome, I’d never seen anything like that. The problem is even bigger than Chris Rock says: I mean, the Lampoon was founded in 1876, has its own building that was paid for largely by William Randolph Hearst, there’s insane amounts of privilege and tradition and money built into it. It takes forever to build up a thing like that.
Probably the black equivalent of the Lampoon wouldn’t look anything like the Lampoon – why would it?
Even if a Howard Lampoon got rolling in a strong way, wouldn’t that still leave out a lot of interesting black voices? For what it’s worth, the president of the Harvard Lampoon right now is a black woman.)
I guess the main thing I can do here is to honest to younger writers. Maybe also be blunt about the opportunities I got and how I got them and not front like I got these things on pure moxie?
The End of My Career at TNR
My old TNR pieces – which as far as I can tell can be found only in bits and pieces online, or in my email – are so riddled with clumsy writing and jackass attitude that I’m not going to reprint them here. (Among other things I’m kind of embarrassed that in the pieces I treated Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as amusing goofballs rather than deeply troubling, republic-damaging, world-class liars and power-deranged criminals).
There was one, however, that I think was ok. It was sort of a parody of the style of punning headline/counterintuitive logline that was common at TNR in 2005.
I believe this piece got me essentially fired, however, because I have a series of positive exchanges with my editor (Richard Just) and then total silence and the piece never ran. In any case it was the end of my writing for TNR. Fair enough, I guess – nine years later I’m not prepared to stand by this as comedy, and you can’t ask a magazine to publish a long piece making fun of itself.
I’ll always be proud to have been a minuscule part of this institution.
Shattered Glass, by the way, is a really compelling movie, a great example of cool filmmaking to tell a story that’s relatively low stakes and hard to dramatize. Very worth studying. Billy Ray, who wrote and directed it, went on to write Captain Philips, which I’d say is also a tremendous screenplay.
Piece is below (I dumped these out, planning on the editor picking like half).
TNR Pieces I’m Too Lazy To Write
Political insight is a rare gift. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that my intelligence is coupled with laziness. Whenever I settle down to write another astute article, I get no further than the snazzy headline before I start losing interest. Here are the TNR pieces I would write, if I wasn’t too busy watching TV and taking naps.
Reid My Lips
You might think the Senate minority leader is not a good kisser. You’d be wrong.
What Secretary Rice could learn from reruns of “Kung Fu.”
There’s an easy way to save Social Security: destroy the Sun Belt
The Supreme Court is considering Internet regulation – even though they still haven’t sorted out telegraphs.
My Favorite Kings
The case against democracy.
There’s an easy way for Alan Greenspan to stop being boring: start acting crazy.
Steroids made baseball exciting again. Just think what they could do for Congress.
American voters hate Washington. It’s time Washington got some payback.
The Democrats are like an old Nintendo: obsolete, probably broken – and pretty damn cool.
The government works hard to help America’s kids. But you’d be surprised how little children are doing in return.
The Constitution is the foundation of our nation, the embodiment of our principles, and essential for our government. Here’s why we should get rid of it.
The myth of Nancy Pelosi’s smartness.
How not to reverse the undoing of Congressional consensus.
Nuts and Bolton
Why the Bolton appointment is good news for the U. N. – and bad news for the U. N. cafeteria staff.
Think Senator John Thune (R-SD) is in any way interesting? Think again.
Annan A Mess
Kofi Annan has good ideas on beards, and bad ideas on diplomacy.
Wrong Term Planning
Bush got plenty wrong on WMDs. But he got plenty wrong on lots of other stuff too.
We’ve had an actor president. Why not a supermodel?
The Democrats are gaining ground with a crucial constituency: infants.
Tribe Called Rehnquist
What the Supreme Court could learn from hiphop.
The next World Bank chief doesn’t need to be brilliant. But he better have superpowers.
Want to improve the CIA? Put a robot in charge.
We don’t need tougher immigration standards. We could just make America worse.
Pundits have missed the biggest political change of the past ten years: Congresswomen are getting hotter.
D. C.’s most dangerous gang is Dick Cheney’s staff.
There’s an easy way to fix the trade deficit – quit buying crap from China.
Are America’s newsweeklies too well written?
Why TV pundits are a bunch of cowardly pansies.
Forget Iran and Syria. The US should be spreading democracy beneath the ocean.
Why replacing Rumsfeld with an adorable puppy is more trouble than it’s worth.
American political campaigns need to stop being so lame.