CRF Blog

You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong, You’re Definitely Wrong, and I’m Probably Wrong, Too

by Bill Hayes

In You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong, You’re Definitely Wrong, and I’m Probably Wrong, Too for the New Republic, Hendrik Hertzberg looks back on his days of working for the magazine.

One setting for such arguments was the office hallways. Another was the weekly staff meeting, where the discussion included the upcoming “lede,” the main unsigned editorial that fronted each issue. Things could get heated, as they did — to take a paradigmatic example — when we debated what to say about how the United States should treat Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime. The subsequent lede, titled “The Case for the Contras,” was published in the issue of March 24, 1986. It was an unqualified endorsement of the Reagan administration’s policy of trying to overthrow the Sandinistas by any means necessary, starting with military aid to the Contra guerrillas. The motives it attributed to critics of the Reagan policy were limited to isolationism, defeatism, willful blindness, and selective “scrupulousness” about the sovereignty of “states ruled by pro-Soviet Leninists.”

Considering that those critics included a substantial majority of the staff, one may justly infer that The New Republic’s form of government, like Nicaragua’s, was less than perfectly democratic. But it certainly wasn’t the kind of non-democracy that stifles dissent.

In the very same issue that featured “The Case for the Contras,” the weekly “TRB from Washington” column disdained its arguments as “preposterous,” “fatuous,” and shot through with “deception.” Although the TRB column, like the editorial, was by tradition unsigned, its author at the time, as every alert reader knew, was Michael Kinsley. In other words, the first person to attack the editorial position of The New Republic was the editor of The New Republic, in The New Republic. [more]