Why The American Conservative Purged Its Own Publisher
Ron Unz, The Unz Review, 29 May 2018
Author’s note: Some may be aware that when I originally established The Unz Review over four years ago one of my main motives was to have a convenient venue for my own writing, a situation necessitated by my removal as Publisher of The American Conservative. However, other matters intervened, and all but a few months of my time since then have been preoccupied with software development issues and politics, but now at very long last I do hope to return to that original purpose.
Shortly after my departure from TAC in Fall 2013, I had written an article recounting the unfortunate circumstances, and this had attracted some interest from editors at The Atlantic. But they not unreasonably balked at the length, and soon afterward I was drawn into a major campaign to implement my proposal of a huge hike in the American Minimum Wage, an effort that eventually helped establish it as a central economic pillar of the Democratic Party; this was soon followed by other endeavors, mostly on software matters. Over the years, various people have expressed curiosity about my TAC story, which remained unpublished, and with the fifth anniversary of my defenestration now upon us, I’ve decided I might as well release it in its original form, changing scarcely a single word though updating some of the links. Five years represents an eternity in political journalism, and various events and personalities have surely lapsed into obscurity, but such is the price paid for historical authenticity.
Given hindsight, I’d consider myself satisfied with the ultimate outcome. The Review currently operates on an absolute shoestring while the editorial budget of TAC these days is an order-of-magnitude larger, covering the costs of a full-time staff of seven or eight. But according to Alexa.com our readership passed theirs six months ago, and has been substantially higher every week since. Possibly for these sorts of reasons, TAC recently named yet another new top editor, with Benjamin Schwarz becoming the third in eighteen months. And aside from providing some of the background to the creation of The Review and helping to explain its eclectic ideological focus, I think my story also serves as an example of why so many small publications tend to blur their editorial line over time, lured by mainstream respectability and resources, a process that seems to have recently claimed the late Alex Cockburn’s once fiercely-independent Counterpunch.
On June 12th, 2013 I was having an unusually lengthy phone conversation with Daniel McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative (TAC). I live in Silicon Valley, three thousand miles away from DC, and despite holding the nominal title of publisher my involvement with TAC business operations had usually been negligible, amounting to just a few minutes a week on the phone. But I had grown alarmed over the lack of any major new donations since January, and had begun urging McCarthy to make the cuts in expenses necessary for the publication’s survival, while lobbying the board on the same subject. Web traffic had also been sharply declining for six or seven months, suggesting the need for a change in editorial focus. And several months earlier, TAC had cut its print frequency in half to just six issues a year while doubling the annual subscription rate to $60, thus quadrupling the per issue cost to an unreasonable $10, a pricing decision I’d strongly questioned at the time and now believed we needed to reverse.
Despite my tradition of operational disengagement, I felt comfortable pressing these points. Since late 2006 I had provided some 70% of TAC’s total funding, and even after converting the publication into a non-profit in 2010, I had still remained TAC’s largest donor during 2012, while also serving as chairman. TAC had come close to shutting down on a couple of previous occasions and I wanted to avoid taking such a risk again, especially since over the last year or two I had begun regularly publishing some of my own articles in the magazine.
Finally, at the end of the call I asked McCarthy whether he’d yet had a chance to prepare a redlined edit copy of the new article I’d submitted a couple of weeks earlier and on which he’d previously suggested one or two minor changes that I had subsequently made. To my enormous surprise, he informed me that he’d decided to flatly reject the entire piece—an analytical study of American urban crime rates—as representing the sort of racially-inflammatory material that had no place in a quality magazine such as TAC. He instead suggested that a more appropriate venue for my article would be one of the webzines categorized as White Nationalist hate-sites by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
After a few stunned words on my part, I hung up the phone and almost immediately received an emailing McCarthy had sent out to his undisclosed distribution list, harshly criticizing my behavior while repeating his same charges in more measured terms, describing the subject of my article as “a distraction from TAC’s mission” and something that would “fatally detract” from TAC’s advocacy of “the case for noninterventionism and restricting executive power.” I soon discovered that my TAC blogging privileges had also been terminated, banning me from the website. Later, my access to TAC’s ongoing website traffic information was eliminated. So more than six years after becoming TAC’s publisher, I had been summarily purged.
Please read Ron Unz's entire article at The Unz Review.