- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

Spring is here and along with the new season, many new things are cropping up — like all those fresh green shoots we’re seeing everywhere. In magazines, the freshest of the lot is surely the overhaul of that venerable Washington publication the New Republic, part of the political scene for nearly a century.

Martin Peretz, the current owner and editor in chief since March 1974, contributes an informative and useful rundown of the magazine’s editors over his time in charge. He points out the modern use of the term liberalism in those pages.

Mr. Peretz proudly declares, “I’ve viewed my historic mission as the safeguarding of this sacred legacy from moral decrepitude,” although he adds that unfortunately, “this magazine has not always been a good steward to the ideology that it helped invent.”

One piece of fascinating historical background about the magazine that he offers to readers perhaps far too young to remember is about Michael Straight, whom Mr. Peretz describes accurately as “the most curious figure in the magazine’s history.” Mr. Straight was the son of TNR’s founder, Willard Straight, and his wife, Dorothy Payne Whitney, an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune. Son Michael did not share his parents’ beliefs, it would seem, as he became a Soviet agent. Not exactly a principal, but not a cipher, either, Mr. Peretz says, in the espionage network involving the likes of Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.

Mr. Peretz does say that Mr. Straight eventually came to realize that the Soviet Union was a “monstrous tyranny.” He follows up by quoting bravely from the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s introduction to a collection of 50 years of New Republic articles, commenting on “the silly dalliances” in the past that included “collectivism, isolationism and, for a few very long moments, an idiot infatuation with, yes, Stalinism.”

Engagingly, while running through the various editors he has hired over the years, Mr. Peretz declares, “Trust me, there have been many times when I’ve hurled my own magazine against the wall in anger.” Humbly, he concludes with the hope that the magazine is “still embarked on its original mission to shape a just and prosperous society and to build a tolerable world. Wanting more would lead us astray.”

Elsewhere in the magazine, Leon Wieseltier, longtime literary editor, contributes quite a kick of a last page with the Washington Diarist. He says former first lady and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “intergalactic celebrity blinds many people to the fact that she may be the most plodding and expedient politician in America.” Barack Obama adorns the cover of the first issue in its new, glossier format, but a flattering sketch of Mrs. Clinton makes the cover for the second issue, dated April 2.

Oh yes… TNR will now be appearing just twice a month. No longer a weekly.

The last weeks of March have seen a fair amount of advance and fancy hype for Conde Nast’s latest baby, Portfolio, a business publication that will debut this month with 300 pages and (reportedly) 95 advertisers. The editor in chief is Joanne Lipman, a youthful reporter from the Wall Street Journal.

Vanity Fair in its April issue marks the final days of HBO’s “The Sopranos” by giving its cover to show star James Gandolfini (aka Tony Soprano) as he clutches a cigar in one hand and a near naked blonde — clad only in red heels — in the other. Show creator David Chase lurks in the background, nearly obscured by the blonde, with the headline “The Greatest Show in TV History.”

The same issue also gives us a portfolio of Annie Leibovitz and other high-powered photographers with “Fifty-Five Years of White House Power,” featuring presidential advisers from the Truman through Clinton administrations. Sadly, the survivors from the Truman and Eisenhower years are very elderly gentlemen. Curiously, one of the most famous of all presidential advisers of recent history, Henry Kissinger, is tucked away on page 273 in a smallish black-and-white photograph. It’s a nice enough picture, but are the editors making their own comment here, or was Mr. Kissinger just not free for the group photo sessions?

Newsweek has dedicated its entire April 2 issue to “Voices of the Fallen: The War in the Words of the Dead.” Superimposed over a photograph of American soldiers moving across a desert landscape are the handwritten words: “Any day I’m here could be the day I die.”

And indeed, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis L. Youngblood, deployed to Iraq in March 2005, did meet his death; he was killed in action on July 21, 2005.

The young petty officer is one of more than 100 Americans featured by this special issue of Newsweek who met their fate during the four years of war in Iraq. The project also chronicles their experience through their correspondence with family members via e-mails, letters and journals. Altogether, it makes for a desperately moving testimonial to the intimate impact of war on American lives, at home and on the field of battle.

As a kind of weird companion piece to the high-minded Newsweek war remembrance, the April issue of Harper’s Magazine offers 15 pages of a cartoon portfolio by Joe Sacco purportedly covering the training of a group of men from the ING (Iraqi National Guard) by two U.S. servicemen. The language is extremely vulgar and definitely not what you’d expect to find in the pages of a proper publication. The tone is downright cynical to boot, closing with one of the young Iraqi men saying, “If you work for the Americans, the Mujahadeen will kill you. If you work for the Mujahadeen, the Americans will kill you. And if you stay at home, you won’t earn any money.”

Because April is the month when you start planning that summer vacation, there’s no better help than Real Simple’s Ultimate Vacation Planning Guide. You get 43 foolproof destinations, 18 hotels with rates under $200 — plus family-friendly getaways and much more.

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