The country’s oldest weekly magazine, a fixture of liberal households since the Civil War, has a dirty secret, its long-time editor/publisher discloses. It loses money.
But then, writes Navasky (Naming Names, the 1982 National Book Award winner), so does National Review, and so does just about every other journal of opinion published here. Indeed, The Nation has always lost money. So why go on publishing so poor a business prospect? Navasky’s answer is a spirited defense of the independent press, one that incidentally addresses why nonprofit status is a bad thing overall. In this elegant book—a combination memoir, intellectual history, and how-to guide for would-be magazine publishers—he allows that the thrill of chasing news and potential donors alike has been quite enough to keep his heart in the game for the last quarter-century, tough as that game is. Too tough for the executives at Disney, at least, who have been threatening to shut down ABC’s Nightline as irrelevant: “If relevance is measured by the bottom line,” Navasky writes, “they are right. I was glad to be in the un-mass media.” Navasky cheerfully predicts that its audience will grow with the follies of the Bush administration: “If it’s bad for the country, it’s good for The Nation.” (He adds: “But even I would have a qualm or two if I thought that The Nation’s business future depended on an imperial America’s unilateral aggression abroad and suppression of civil liberties at home.”) When he’s not covering the practicalities of publishing—and this is worth any five textbooks on the subject—Navasky ponders the odd house he heads, famously and oddly divided, with columnists feuding among themselves (Christopher Hitchens vs. Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens vs. The Left in re Iraq, and so forth) and left stalwarts like the late Susan Sontag calling it to task for lapses in political correctness. And all the while the right, of course, brands it a bastion of Bolshevism. It’s politics as usual, in other words, lively and always surprising.
A pleasure for general readers, and a blessing for students of the independent media and contemporary letters.