Politics & Policy

How We Got Here

An exciting time for NRO.

So, we got a zillion suggestions for NRO slogans (to see the list of the first hundred or so, click here). It’s clear from many of the entries that we have some very loyal readers — “NRO: So Shines The Light of Reason in the Darkness of a Troubled Web,” or, “NRO: When You’re Serious About Freedom.” It’s also clear we have some very wise-ass readers: “We’re Not Bed-Wetting Liberals Like They Have Over at New Republic,” or “Yeah, We Hate Hillary Too.” Currently, my favorite is: “NRO: Official Sponsor of the Harrison Junior High Mathletes.” Though the simple and elegant, “Ramesh! Ramesh! Ramesh!” does have some appeal.

I almost got misty reading all of the mottoes sent in, seriously. It was a fascinating glimpse into what many of you guys think we’re doing. Because that’s what mottoes do: They sum up the essence of an enterprise’s aspirations, like “Semper Fi!” for the Marines, or “You Deserve A Break Today” for McDonalds, or “Can I get fries with that?” for Bill Clinton.

But for us, a motto is quite a challenge because, well, I’m not sure what it is — precisely — we’re doing. Sometimes I’m very surprised Bill Buckley hasn’t logged onto NRO, looked around, sprayed his morning coffee all over the screen, and mailed me a dead fish with a severance check attached. We are not exactly a normal operation and I am, frankly, sometimes baffled that things are going so well.

Case in point: As I mentioned in my much-derided and long-winded Wednesday column, recently I was giving a speech, and several college kids wanted to know about my couch. Now, I know that when big-league pundits — like George Will or James Carville — speak to college audiences, it’s common for them to get questions about other Washington figures: “What’s Cokie really like?” or “Mr. Carville, is Mephistopheles really as bad-tempered as people say?” But me, I get questions like, “Will your couch write another column?”, “Is he your ghost writer?”, “What did he think about the X-Men movie?”, or “Sir, do you mind? I wasn’t finished eating that.”

OK, forget the last one, but my couch! For newer readers, you might not remember my couch. Back in the early days of this column, when my only readers were people who were really, really, really angry about impeachment, I wrote a lot of strange things. This was mostly due to the fact that I was steadily losing my mind working out of the house all day (though I must say the shameless concatenation of lies, abuses, and slanders coming out of the White House and its defenders didn’t help my stability too much either). So, I started referring to various members of my “staff,” including my “Director of Research,” the Couch. This made sense at the time because: 1) he’s one of my closest friends; 2) I had already made my relationship with the Couch fairly central to my whole existence. It started with simple jokes about how much time I spent watching TV on the, well, you-know-who/what. Then, it became a way to gripe about my life, as when I wrote in December of 1999:

All I’ve got by way of a staff is a Couch with an ever-expanding crater in the middle where my ever-expanding Dershowitz, oops, I mean ass, goes. Even when my Couch is working he’s more surly than a Teamster with a workmen’s comp claim pending.

But here’s a secret about writing this column: I never actually imagine anybody reading it. In fact, I’m often very embarrassed when I bump into people who quote it back to me. It’s very flattering, sure, but if I thought about the fact that thousands of serious people read this thing every day I’d never be able to write it.

Which gets me back to NRO. This whole thing started as a lark, at least for me. Rich Lowry — who I would gladly take a bullet for, or at least a whack from a very splintery board — asked me to write an “Impeachment Diary” for a web page that looked so bad it would have come in a very distant second to the Harrison Junior High Matheles homepage. He said, “I guess we can call it the ‘Goldberg File’ until we come up with something good.” I was an angry young man with nothing to lose and even less to do, who had turned his back — thank God — on a promising career as an earnest public-television producer and freelance writer.

Things changed. First of all, many of you bizarre, hyper-intelligent, time-wasting, overly-ironicized freaks decided to keep reading this column even after the president put his pants back on and “got back to the work of the American people.” It appears that many people want to read about Oakeshott and St. Augustine and hear about why the holo-deck is the worst plot device in the history of Star Trek. In fact they often want to hear about both things in the same column — if not the same sentence. Who’d a thunk it?

About six months after I started writing the then-daily G-File, Rich asked if I wanted a part-time job as the “Editor” of National Review Online — which at the time was like asking if I wanted to edit the Collected Wisdom of Alec Baldwin; how much time could that take? Well, now this is a pretty serious enterprise. We’ve got serious people working very hard on and writing for this thing. I mean, have you ever met Chris McEvoy (the Managing Editor of NRO and the Production Editor of NR and the de facto Editor of NRO Weekend)? This is a serious guy. I used to make fun of the old glue-sniffing webmaster, Russ Jenkins — a great guy in every way — because, well, I could get away with it. And besides, who’d notice? But these days, if I said Chris spent the weekend doing lines of toner cartridge ink and that’s why he’s crumpled in the corner brushing away invisible spiders, he’d kick my ass or, worse, he might quit.

That’s the essence of the dilemma and the triumph of National Review Online these days: We’re a serious operation. We have over 300,000 unique visitors every month — and growing every day. The elite press is saying nice things about us. We often get mentioned alongside some media giants as if we belong there, and I guess we do, at least sometimes. Our competitors used to be the web pages of other magazines, like the Weekly Standard (tee hee). Now, it’s Slate and Salon and WashingtonPost.com and MSNBC.com and a thousand other creatures big and small. But none of those guys is like us, we’re a hybrid. We’re not just the National Review’s website, but we’re not a “pure play” online magazine either.

In short, there are no rules for NRO because nobody has ever done what we’re doing. I think the suits might be miffed at me for saying we don’t know what we’re doing, but I think that’s what’s best about NRO, except for the freaks who read it.


The Latest