I heard about the death at age 80 of Stan Evans — a founder of the modern conservative movement, an editor at National Review for 13 years, and the man who gave my own career a kick-start — at a media conference in Korea. At my breakfast table was Adam Clymer, the former chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. By coincidence, he wrote the Times obituary of Stan that was published today.
Clymer is no conservative, but he said that in writing his book on the Panama Canal treaty fight, he discovered how important a figure Stan had been. “He was key to making the Panama Canal handover a rallying cry for conservatives,” he recalled. “The issue kept Reagan alive in the 1976 primaries against Ford, it helped Reagan win the presidency, and defeated so many Democratic senators in 1980 that the GOP won the Senate — and Democratic senators gave Reagan more deference in foreign policy because they saw what opposing him could mean.”
But that was only the beginning of Stan’s impact. As a founder of the Young Americans for Freedom, he was the author of its 1960 manifesto, the “Sharon Statement,” to this day one of the most concise and stirring statements of conservative principle ever written. It declared the Constitution “the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power.”
He was the author of ten books, and many of them had a major impact. Revolt on the Campus prefigured the campus unrest of the 1960s and outlined conservatism’s response to it. His biography of Joseph McCarthy made clear that, despite his many excesses, the senator had identified serious national-security weaknesses. And Stan’s 2012 book with Herbert Romerstein, Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, detailed those security breaches with solid, documentary evidence drawn from Soviet archives and other sources.
Stan also became sort of a cult figure among conservatives for his mordant wit, which he often displayed as a master of ceremonies at conservative gatherings. “The trouble with conservatives,” he once observed, “is that too many of them come to Washington thinking they are going to drain the swamp, only to discover that Washington makes a great hot tub.”
Stan often served as a conscience for the conservative movement. He wasn’t fooled by Richard Nixon, and when he was head of the American Conservative Union in 1971, he had the group issue a statement saying it “has resolved to suspend our support of the Administration.” Evans later joked: “I didn’t support Nixon until Watergate. I had other problems with him. After wage and price controls, and [the creation of] the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), affirmative action, détente [with the Soviet Union], the visit to Red China, and on and on, to me after all that, Watergate was like a breath of fresh air.”
But Stan’s lasting impact on me and society came in the field of journalism. He excelled in it, becoming editor of the Indianapolis News in 1960 at the age of 26, making him at the time the youngest editor of a major city paper.
In the 1970s, William F. Buckley remarked that the biggest challenge conservatism faced was the lack of writers and figures in the media who understood or agreed with its principles. That struck a chord with Stan, who in 1977 established the National Journalism Center for the purpose of developing writers who had a solid grounding in both America’s first principles and in good reporting.
Stan ran the NJC for 25 years, handing it over to the Young America’s Foundation in 2002. It is still thriving today, having trained some 2,000 young people with a program that consists of six weeks of learning journalism’s basics followed by a six-week internship at media outlets ranging from the Washington Post to USA Today to the Wall Street Journal and all the major broadcast networks. People who have gone through the program include best-selling authors Ann Coulter and Malcolm Gladwell, Greg Gutfeld of Fox News, Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, independent journalist Martin Morse Wooster, and Terry Moran of ABC News.
I also was an NJC intern in the summer of 1981. I will never forget my “entry” interview with Stan. He looked over my résumé. “I can see you know a lot, but you are here to turn that into useful activity,” he drawled. “You will learn how to research, how to interview, how to use facts properly, and how to organize your thoughts.” He then sent me on my intern assignment to the syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, who gave me a fine, boot-camp education in journalism. But it all began with Stan Evans.
Yes, Stan Evans was a conservative. And he valued accuracy and fairness and facts as well. As he observed at a 1990 lecture at the Heritage Foundation: “An information flow distorted from the right would be just as much a disservice as distortion from the left. What we really should be after . . . is accurate information. And I don’t see what any conservative or anybody else for that matter has to fear from accurate information.”
In today’s media environment, some people would call such views “old school.” But that was the only school Stan knew to teach in, and the conservative movement, journalism itself, and yours truly are among the beneficiaries of his high standards.
— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.