I’ve only been around Phil Anschutz a few times. My impressions on those occasions was that he was a run-of-the-mill arrogant billionaire. He was used to people courting him and he addressed them condescendingly from the lofty height of his own wealth.
I’ve never met Ryan McKibben, who runs part of Anschutz’s media group. But stories about him have circulated around Washington over the years. The stories suggest that he is an ordinary corporate bureaucrat — with all the petty vanities and the lack of interest in ideas that go with the type.
This week, Anschutz and McKibben murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned. They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance.
John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, reports that they actively prevented potential buyers from coming in to take it over and keep it alive. They apparently wanted to hurt the employees and harvest the subscription list so they could make money off it. And Anschutz, being a professing Christian, decided to close the magazine at the height of the Christmas season, and so cause maximum pain to his former employees and their families.
The closing of The Weekly Standard is being told as a Trump story, as all stories must be these days. The magazine has been critical of Trump, and so this is another example of the gradual hegemony of Trumpism over the conservative world. That is indeed the backdrop to what happened here.
But that’s not the whole story. In reality, this is what happens when corporate drones take over an opinion magazine, try to drag it down to their level and then grow angry and resentful when the people at the magazine try to maintain some sense of intellectual standards. This is what happens when people with a populist mind-set decide that an uneducated opinion is of the same value as an educated opinion, that ignorance sells better than learning.
In that sense, the closing of The Standard resembles Chris Hughes’s destruction of the old New Republic. This is what happens when the commercial forces trying to dumb down the American media run into a pocket of people trying to resist those forces.
I was on staff when The Standard was founded, by Bill Kristol, Podhoretz and Fred Barnes. They gathered the most concentrated collection of talent I have ever been around. The first masthead featured Charles Krauthammer, P.J. O’Rourke, Robert Kagan, David Frum, Chris Caldwell, Matt Labash, Tucker Carlson and the greatest political writer of my generation, Andrew Ferguson.