"In reporting the news, Human Events is objective; it aims for accurate presentation of all the facts. But it is not impartial. It looks at events through eyes that are biased in favor of limited constitutional government, local self-government, private enterprise and individual freedom. These principles represented the bias of the Founding Fathers.We think the same bias will preserve freedom in America." -- From the masthead of Human Events
With these somewhat portentous words, the newspaper Human Events announces itself to over 60,000 subscribers each week. Since it has been known that one of those faithful readers is none other than Ronald Reagan, the unpretentious 36-year-old paper has enjoyed an unaccustomed share of attention and many even -- to the amusement of its two editor/owners -- become fashionable.
"I get calls from people I've never even heard of," said Allan Ryskin, who was born and raised in Hollywood, a perhaps unlikely breeding ground for a conservative. "I guess they think they could get to Reagan through the pages of the newspaper. And people talk to you more, they've heard of you.People come from The Washington Post to interview you. . . ."
"It certainly hasn't been a bonanza," said Ryskind's partner, Thomas S. Winter. "I haven't noticed any great surge in subscriptions, or advertisers beating down our door."
To illustrate the philosophical and political ties with Reagan, they once ran an ad for Human Events saying that Reagan read the paper, and "people in the campaign have told us that what we've said [in the paper] often comes back from him almost verbatim," Ryskind said.
For almost 20 years Winter and Ryskind have been laboring in comparative obscurity, known and influential among the in-people in the conservative crowd as traditional, free-enterprise states-rights conservatives but unknown to the world at large.
Working out of two cluttered floors in a Capitol Hill building they own with other partners, they employ about 30 people and regularly lose money -- this year only about $50,000, less than in previous years. Subscriptions cost $25 year, and subscribers are also asked to contribute money to keep the operation afloat. But Ryskind and Winter are happy men -- not just because they have the delightful and unusual freedom to print what they think, but because the polls and the Republican party seem at this moment to be very much in accord with their view of the world.
That view is fairly clear from headlines like "White House Conference Endorses Radical Program," about the White House conference on families,
"New Dove at State," announcing Edmund Muskie's appointment, or "Jimmy Carter: Four Years of Failure."
"We're not getting trendy, it's just that people are finally seeing that some of the things that we've been saying for years -- like that liberalism is dead -- are right." Winter said with a grin. y
They call themselves "advocacy journalists," a profession that requires an almost continual state of outrage.
"I'd say it was controlled outrage," said Ryskind. "It's mixed with optimism." A few seconds later he's pessimistic. Even if Reagan wins, it will be hard to change things," he mourned.
"I'm more optimistic in that I think the president can change things," said Winter, seated on a chair next to one piled with old newspapers and a filing cabinet piled with old newspapers. "I do think that if we don't do well this time the liberals have got the ball game. This is our chance, and we better not botch it . . . wouldn't that be amazing if we did take control of Congress?"
Looking appalled at the thought, both said there is no way either of them would take a job in a Reagan administration. "The only job I want is on the Supreme Court," said Winter. "And I'm not a lawyer, so that takes care of that."
There are people, like conservative fund-raiser and publisher Richard Viguerie, who say the conservative movement today would not be as strong as it is if Human Events hadn't been there all these years. It provided a voice and a forum during the '50s and '60s when "the movement" was comparatively unfocused, he said. He calls it "a Bible of conservative activists." He also tried to buy it several times, without success.
"It is the one conservative publication that has improved since the days when National Review was king," wrote Alan Crawford, once an intern at the newspaper, in a new book "Thunder on the Right." ". . . Human Events, at its worst, is strident and somewhat doctrinaire," he continued, adding that "much of the readership consists of somewhat primitive right-wing activists . . ."
"It is the only weekly that exposes readers to the conservative viewpoint in Congress," said Paul Weyrich of the very conservative Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, who has some idealogical differences with Winter and Ryskind. "But you have to understand where they are coming from -- the Reagan inner circle. Ronald Reagan can do no wrong. Anyone who takes exception to the point of view that Ronald Reagan is the Second Coming doesn't get covered." He describes them as exponents of the "William Buckley-Barry Goldwater kind of conservatism."
Weyrich thinks that Human Events "paved the way" for George Bush's nomination as vice-president, something which has outraged Weyrich so much that he is not supporting Reagan. "They [Winter and Ryskind] were not the least bit outraged," he said, dismayed.
Nonetheless, he said, when people in audiences that he speaks to ask if there is a conservative newspaper they can subsribe to, he suggest Human Events.
Wesley McCune, a liberal who tracks the conservative movement, has read Human Events for years. He finds it "not only informative but lively," and predicts it will survive after other, more shrill publications have died because it is "more ecumenical."
"They editorialize by selectivity rather than name-calling," McCune said. ". . . the writing is slanted, but not deceptive . . . they've tried to stay away from the far right without attacking them."
"They're on the political battlefront," said columnist William F. Buckley, who remembers writing his first article for Human Events in 1950. "It's not the direction I chose to go in as an editor but I'm thoroughly enthusiastic about them."
Ryskind, 45, can't remember a time when he wasn't a conservative. "People tell me that as a kid I was always running around with statistics," he said. "Such as figures showing there was a higher unemployment rate in 1936 under Franklin Roosevelt than during a Republican administration.
His father, Morrie Ryskind, was a screenwriter and playwright who wrote, among other things, movies for the Marx brothers. But Ryskind does not recall a glamorous Hollywood childhood. "The only thing I remember is that I delivered the shopping news to Elizabeth Taylor," he said. "That was a real thrill."
His father started as a socialist, and "voted for FDR' second term, which he now regrets," Ryskind said. But later senior Ryskind fought to rid the movie industry labor unions of communists, and his career suffered because of it. "The people on the business side didn't want any ruckus and they took it out on people like my dad," he said.
He went to work at Human Events in 1959, when he was 24, and bought the paper with Winter seven years later. He now writes or edits the "news" section of the 20-page tabloid-sized paper, gearing his schedule to an all-Thursday writing marathon. He spends a lot of time on the telephone during the rest of the week, calling his numerous sources on Capitol Hill. He also follows State Department briefings ("I'd be dead without transcripts," he said) and the White House. He hates working social events and leaves most of that to Winter. Ryskind, his school-teacher wife and three children live in a distinctly unfashionalbe part of Washington, near Pennsylvania and Alabama avenues. His hobby is collecting communist memorabilia.
Winter, 42, is the suave member of the duo, and more of a political activist. He is the treasurer of the Conservative Victory Fund (whose director, Gregg Hilton, covers state politics for Human Events) and on the board of the American Conservative Union. A graduate of the Harvard Business School, he handles a lot of the business details of the paper as well as the columnists they reprint such as Patrick Buchanan, james J. Kilpatrick and M. Stanton Evans. Ryskind's father also writes a column.
Winter lives with his wife and 1 1/2-year-old daughter on Capital Hill, and owns other properties as well. His hobby would appear to be smoking menthol cigarettes.
One thing that sets them both off is being called "strident."
"What does strident mean?" Winter said emphatically. "I don't think we yell. Sure we're relentless, we're tough. We'll go back to a point week after week if we feel it isn't sinking in. But I don't think we're strident."
Those who call it strident may be referring to items such as a picture that ran in the May 24 issue of two women holding signs that said "I love this woman with all my heart." Although the picture was from the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977, it was used with a story about the White House Conference on Families, and the caption read "Thanks to a benign Carter administration scenes such as the one above . . . will almost certainty return."
Or perhaps it's a reference to headlines like "Administration Stacks Deck on 'Families Conference," or statements like this one about Edmund Muskie: "Some portions of a Muskie speech last January came close to resembling a brief on behalf of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan."
Nonetheless, they avoid some of the barely controlled hysteria that seems to prevail in other idealogical papers, whether right or left politically, and are criticized by people in so-called New Right like Weyrich for neglecting "social issues" and being more concerned with economic ones. "Social issues" is a code word for the emotional topics of abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, school busing, homosexuality and school prayer, around with the New Right freely admits it has organized to get more voters aroused enough to get involved.
Ryskind and Winter dispute this criticism. "I doubt you could name a social issue we haven't written about," Winter said. "But if you don't talk about economic issues you're out of touch with reality. The rise of Ronald Reagan is not based on single-issue groups, it's based on the failure of liberalism."
They are proud to be blamed for (or credited) by people like Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) for the defeat of Nixon's family assistance plan, and by others for preventing Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) from getting the Republican vice-presidential nomination McCune said "they practically created Barry Goldwater as a national figure."
They unashamedly promote Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and wanted him to get the vice-presidential nod. Here's an example from a recent issue: "Republicans leaving Detroit agree that the big winner -- after Reagan and Bush -- was Rep. Jack Kemp . . . Kemp's performance chairing the platform committee and his electrifying speech to the convention have catapulted him into the party leadership. Even liberal New York state chairman Bernard Kilbourn says, 'He the darling of the convention. In between four and eight years, he could be a national candidate again.'"
Winter and Ryskind disagree only occasionally. Winter was the first to attack former president Richard M. Nixon; Ryskind confesses to having been "soft" on the subject. Ryskind said he has now had second thoughts about having opposed all the civil rights laws also.
"There were many bad affects of those laws; quotas, rushing people into schools. Ideally I believed it was a state's-rights issue. But you can't have a society in which people can't advance on their merits. How can you ask a black to believe in state's rights when he sees the authorities are working against him? It was the federal government that helped them, not the states."
Although they are relentless about pushing their conservative point of view, they are not grim ideologues. Changing the world is in their view a rather egotistic goal.
"I'd be happy if we could just stop a few things," Ryskind said.