Just, 32, was probably more surprised than anyone. Under his watch, TNR was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for general excellence in the “thought leader” category, a signal achievement, given the publication’s ragtag financial state. He’d also recruited Hughes to buy the publication. Indeed, when the sale was announced in March, Just confidently told the New York Times that Hughes “has assured me that I’m going to continue to run the editorial side of the magazine.”
Instead, Hughes replaced him with the man Just had succeeded as editor just 18 months earlier. (Just, now at the Daily Beast, declined to comment, as did Foer.)
Timothy Noah, a senior editor, calls Just’s firing “weird” in light of his role in bringing Hughes in. “I was very dismayed to see Richard fired,” says Noah, “and I was very happy to see Frank hired. The net result was perfect neutrality.”
Another writer, who asked not to be identified, called the change “totally jarring.” He notes “there was some sense that things were not going well between Chris and Richard. There was head-butting over covers. Chris was taking more interest in the day-to-day [editing] than Richard was comfortable with. I think Richard was very surprised that he’s no longer at the helm.”
Another staff member analyzed the firing this way: “I think Chris felt like Richard wasn’t thinking big enough or aggressive enough about the future of the magazine. . . . It didn’t help that their personalities didn’t mesh.”
The comment suggests the extent of Hughes’s involvement in his new enterprise. Hughes has been a hands-on presence. Staffers say he attends about half of the magazine’s editorial meetings, commuting from his estate in Garrison, N.Y., or his loft in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
Eric Alterman, a media critic at the Nation magazine, already sees some signs of change. In May, TNR published a sensitive and deeply reported feature on Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, entitled “The Visionary.” Such a piece, Alterman says, would have been unthinkable under Peretz, who was relentlessly anti-Palestinian. “The general tone of the magazine has been changed by the absence of Marty Peretz,” Alterman says.
Yet it’s still unclear where Hughes intends to steer the magazine.
“My sense about Chris is that he’s more interested in influence than power,” says Wieseltier. “He’s concerned about the vulgarization of political discourse. He’s interested in the arts and culture. He’s a man with values and with means. But I don’t think he wants to take over the world.”
Noah puts it a little differently: “He’s said all the right things, but I don’t know what the plan is. It’s probably evolving as we speak. I’m delighted we have some money behind us. . . . I’m delighted that his politics appear to be similar to my own. But I’d be lying if I said I knew what the grand plan is.”