The American Conservative, Unfused?
There’s a rift between the publisher and the editor, over editorial decisions and finances.


Betsy Woodruff

A conflict at The American Conservative has led its publisher, Ron Unz, to claim he’s being “purged” from the magazine. And in an e-mail obtained by National Review Online, the magazine’s editor said he would resign if the board “would prefer that Ron Unz decide what we publish.

Until lately, Unz had his own blog on the magazine’s website, linked to on the homepage. That blog is no longer active, though its content is still on the site. He says he used to be able to post directly to the website but can’t anymore. And, according to Unz, a lengthy article about race and crime that he recently submitted for publication was rejected by the magazine’s editor, Daniel McCarthy, without much explanation. (Unz has published that article on his personal website here.) He tells me that he thinks he’s being pushed out because he tried to improve the magazine’s finances and management.

McCarthy’s e-mail, which he sent to the magazine’s board of directors on June 11, says Unz’s essay was rejected because it would “fatally detract” from the magazine’s attempt to promote “realism in foreign policy, a defense of constitutional civil liberties, and a humane Burkean conservatism.” 

Here’s the full text of McCarthy’s e-mail:

Sent: Tue 6/11/2013 10:40 AM

To: [undisclosed-recipients]

Subject: About Ron Unz & The American Conservative

Attached is a Ron Unz essay that I am rejecting for publication in The American Conservative.

As ever, it’s too long, but beyond that its subject is a distraction from TAC’s mission. We stand for realism in foreign policy, a defense of constitutional civil liberties, and a humane Burkean conservatism. This essay does not advance any of those mission areas, even indirectly. In fact, it would fatally detract from them at a time when Republicans (and disillusioned Democrats) are once again listening to the case for noninterventionism and restricting executive power.

I reject the essay without fear of losing financial support because Ron Unz has already ceased to be an active supporter of the magazine. He has made no contributions this year, nor has he ever fulfilled the traditional publisher’s role of assembling funding from other sources. Having relinquished the duties of publisher, he has instead, over the last six months, tried to assume those of editor. He has demanded excessive space for his own work in every issue, he has regularly insisted that his stories should take the cover, he has attempted to assign or accept material from other writers, and he has imposed a blog of his own—which he uses almost exclusively to promote himself—on the website.

Today Unz told me explicitly: “I think you realize perfectly well that over the last couple of years my primary concern with TAC has involved the proper publication of my own articles.”

I believe I have the full support of our staff, our major donors, and indeed the support of this board in upholding The American Conservative’s mission. If I am mistaken, and this board would prefer that Ron Unz decide what we publish, I will tender my resignation.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have about this or any other matter related to TAC. Feel free to contact me by email or telephone, [redacted].

Best regards, 

Daniel McCarthy


The American Conservative

Unz takes issue with a number of McCarthy’s points: He says he was TAC’s largest  donor in the second half of 2012 and its second-largest direct financial donor from 2011 to 2013. Regarding TAC’s mission, Unz says, The exceptions to McCarthy’s newly discovered guidelines are so enormous in number they completely overwhelm the rule.” And Unz says that, while he’s had the most cover stories (four) of any contributor over the past two years, his articles have also been the most successful on the website: four of the five most-viewed stories. In fact, he says, the cover story he wrote on college admissions, race, and meritocracy precipitated a flood of last-minute donations that kept the magazine from closing at the end of 2012.


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