Politics & Policy

NRO through the Years

A not-at-all-comprehensive history of “standing athwart” on the Internet

A few weeks ago, Rich Lowry asked Jonah Goldberg and me what a history of the early years of National Review Online might look like. After wishing that “Chaka” — as Jonah would refer to our jack-of-all trades on The Corner and in his columns (first Aaron Bailey and then Nathan Goulding) — had secretly been writing the history of NRO as it was happening under his desk instead of searching for a giant strawberry, I started asking around. Over the years — to, almost literally, this day — people meet me and tell me things like “You saved my life on Election Day.” (They are referring to November 2, 2004. For the better part of the day, exit polls — including ones we published — put the country in a preparing-for-President Kerry mode.) We encouraged calm. I’m told that we encouraged people to vote, shared high-level campaign information about polls, and most important, created a sense of community.

That last is what NRO has been doing for years. Even in the very earliest days — when there wasn’t much more than the Word of the Day from old mass-produced WFB Word-of-the-Day calendars and two young reporters covering Capitol Hill — we realized that this Internet thing was a great way to keep people in the loop, in a new, quick way.

But NRO started to become a whole new thing in the days of hanging chads in Florida. And, of course, that one awful day in September 2001 when we managed to stay online (and get the print magazine out) through the help of, yes, Chaka, and an inventive and generous friend in Michigan. As smoke filled NR World Headquarters in midtown Manhattan, you kept e-mailing, thanking us simply for “being there.”

It was more than being there of course, on that and all occasions. It was sound analysis, humor, information, debates. It was even the occasional explainer about why Jonah kept bringing up volcano lancing.

Today, National Review Online is almost a given. It now has an ever-growing staff and editorial meetings in a conference room rather than feverish and scattershot conversations over AOL IM. Were it not for AOL IM, I don’t think I, piraeus76, would have ever become dear friends with Bodiaz — Andrew Breitbart — or chatted with Peggy Noonan through (now Saint!) John Paul II’s funeral. (Speaking of the latter, others, including Elizabeth Scalia, “The Anchoress” online, tell me that John Paul II’s last days were when they discovered the NRO community and analysis.)

Since I’m namedropping anyway . . . I became editor — after years of being the nag who used to remind Jonah his G-File was due — somewhere around the Florida recount, as things were beginning to get out of control in terms of people wanting to contribute and rapid-responses to news. For many of those pre- and post-nag days (I worried I had gotten a reputation for it when the “Star Trek ban” became what I was known most passionately for and Sean Hannity would refer to “K-LoLand” when colleagues would appear on Hannity & Colmes), I recall being described as chained to my desk, as Jonah was sometimes self-described as having tissue boxes on his feet as he wrote. Once “K-Lo” got a Blackberry, in the second decade of NRO, and I went out into the non-cyber world again, Charles Krauthammer would tell me at Vice President Cheney’s house that he wondered whether I would be at lunch because he had read on The Corner that I had hopped on Amtrak to Washington that morning. Actor Adam Baldwin would reference Corner conversations from the previous week (he remembered what Jonah and Ramesh had been saying much better than I did!). The list goes on, including Supreme Court justices, highest-ranking White House officials, senators, congressmen, the culture makers and icons, the occasional country-music star. . . . There was the day Andy McCarthy — he who had prosecuted the Blind Sheik after the first World Trade Center attack — just started e-mailing with analysis. Or the day you realized Rush Limbaugh was among the closest friends you would go to for advice and feedback. This was life in the formative years of NRO, before Facebook and Twitter and “insta” as second nature. (“Insta” reminds me of the kindness of friends like Matt Drudge and Instapundit himself, Glenn Reynolds . . . and there are so many of you. It was near-everything in those early years. And online leaders they — and we — remain.)

Sit down any of us — we have stories, our own lists, memories of when we realized just how vast and impressive our readership list had become. It’s quite something, if you remember that www.nationalreview.com used to be where one found the phone number for subscriptions to National Review.

Our readers were all over and everywhere, experts and friends. They came because there was something to do here, something to share and be a part of. They came because we were influential. So many readers, e-mailing writers who had become part of their lives, became friends.

9/11 and the day WFB died were the longest, hardest, most emotional days at NRO I can remember. I made the announcement about Bill’s death, and testimonies streamed in. So many of you had stories about the day you met WFB — picking him up at an airport, for a speech at your campus. One reader explained how WFB was the father figure in his life: a stable, challenging, giving presence every week on Firing Line. One Catholic priest told how Bill’s witness and writing about his faith had influenced his religious vocation.

There are so many people who made NRO possible. There was WFB’s encouragement of Rich Lowry’s vision of this being the place to be, online; Jonah’s larger-than-life personality and brilliance; the late Matt Carolan and Russ Jenkins for html-ing on instant notice; there was our first Chaka, Aaron Bailey, Jessica Kelsey, and many names behind the scenes helping in big and small ways during our early years. We have benefited from so many wise and wonderful wits and talents through the years. Jonah used to call me the hardest working woman in rock ’n’ roll, if by rock ’n’ roll you meant online journalism. Chris McEvoy, now vice president for editorial operations at NR, was the hardest working man for much of the first decade and more of NRO.

So many of you have continued to support it through our “web-a-thons.” Thank you for being part of the community we built here in the early years. Now, to your quick tour. Comment at the end, or send an old-school email (klopez@nationalreview.com) if you have a memory or two to add.

National Review went online in 1995.

The early life of NRO included two young reporters named Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru writing a “Washington Bulletin” from Capitol Hill. Internally, we knew that NRO was also where editorial paragraphs that had to hit the cutting-room floor for space reasons would find a publication life.

NR Extra!

The Clinton impeachment was one of the first news stories we analyzed in a dedicated way online, with the arrival of Jonah Goldberg as NRO’s founding editor.

Horrible news at Hillsdale College marked the first time we rushed a major breaking story to the Web.

NRO provided all-hands-on-deck coverage of the Clinton administration’s April 2000 removal of Elián González from his Miami relatives’ home the day before Easter.

This was the first year NRO went “Total Convention,” with constant commentary and reporting from Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Later in 2000, many would come to NRO to find out the hanging-chad count during the Florida recount and to follow the Bush v. Gore case. Barbara Olson would do her last interview with NRO during that time.

“In September 2001 NRO was the way to bear witness to the attack on the city I love.” — Rick Brookhiser

The United States was At War and NRO reflected that with a change of look and focus for the coming years.

Shortly thereafter, Victor Davis Hanson began writing for NRO, which he has done ever since. A longtime reader refers to him as “A Great Clarifier,” in those days especially.

Another news story that would play out on NRO was the exposure of Michael Bellesiles’s Second Amendment book as a fraud in 2002. Columbia University would rescind his Bancroft prize. And he would resign his professorship at Emory.

NRO pushed Trent Lott to resign as Senate majority leader.                                                                                   

In January 2003, Cosmo the Wonderdog headed to North Korea to interview Kim Jong Il.

The Kerry Spot launched in May 2004. “What does Obi Wan say?” will mean something to many addicts.

On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan died, turning NRO’s attention to remembering his life.

As exit polls and pundits pointed toward a Kerry win — and the stock market reacted — NRO was a place for calm. “You saved my life on Election Day 2004” became a bit of a grateful refrain for years.

In 2005, a federal prosecutor (Andy McCarthy), among others, kept watch as a brother tried to save the life of his sister, Terri. A snapshot of a day around then.

Also in spring 2005, Bench Memos launched. It would play a key role in the Supreme Court nomination battles to come.

NRO published “The Hop Bird” — Jonah’s eulogy of his father — as a Father’s Day tribute.

Someone in a position to know described NRO at “THE definitive source during the House majority leader race in 2006.”

In 2007, NRO had a Star Trek Weekend (which had started as a fundraising ploy, breaking all rumored Star Trek bans).

On February 28, 2008, we had to announce the news that National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. had died.

In January 2012, The Corner celebrated ten years online.

National Review Online continues to grow and develop, with the vibrant, constant commentary of Kevin Williamson and Charlie Cooke; reporting from Eliana Johnson (daughter of another blogging pioneer, Scott Johnson of Powerline) and Jillian Melchior; as well as the constant presence of the likes of Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, Richard Brookhiser, Jay Nordlinger, John J. Miller, Andrew Stuttaford, and so many more.

Longtime readers will remember volcano-lancing, cheese-eating surrender monkeys, flying monkeys T-shirts. (And here you see the need for Jonah’s FAQ.) First Posts of the Day competitions in The Corner. Jay Nordlinger’s Davos and Salzburg diaries. Pop Up blogs on health-care reform, Liberal Fascism, Sarah Palin, and Crunchy Conservatism. The most memorable title of an NRO piece, ever? “Do Fake Books Go to Heaven?,” on Rod Dreher’s review of the first Left Behind movie.

We said goodbye to many friends, including reporter Steven Vincent, murdered in Iraq; columnist Cathy Seipp; contributors Richard Nadler and Tony Blankley; my friend and colleague in online pioneering, Andrew Breitbart. NR family members, including Priscilla Buckley and Pat Buckley and Bill Rusher and so many others, have become moments of remembrance online.

I could go on. This is far from comprehensive. Some of you remember:


The Al Franken fistfight.

Rich Lowry for mayor.

The prom.

Jonah Roadtrip summer blog.

Saddam captured.

Harriet Miers.

Obamacare passed.

Bin Laden killed.

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 . . . Add your own. . . . 

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