Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz arrange themselves around a table, posing for a publicity photo for their new magazine.

"Pretend we're working -- like we're real journalists," Kristol says.

The barb is not lost on anyone. Just three months ago, this fifth-floor downtown suite housed the Project for the Republican Future, the partisan guerrilla operation founded by Kristol after the voters booted the Bush administration, in which he served as Dan Quayle's chief of staff. Now, with a fresh coat of white paint, a Scotch-taped sign and a truckload of Rupert Murdoch's money, it has become the headquarters of the Standard, the much-touted conservative weekly whose first issue hits the streets Monday.

"We're somewhat self-consciously trying to be the voice of the new conservative era," says Barnes, the former New Republic writer and "McLaughlin Group" pundit who signed on as executive editor. "We're going to be a Washington-drenched magazine."

As for Kristol, who continues to carry the GOP banner on endless talk shows, Barnes says, "This has saved Bill from a fate worse than death: being co-chairman of the Phil Gramm campaign."

As the Standard's editor, Kristol makes no claims of being a born-again journalist. "People are entitled to be suspicious," he says. "I don't think I could call {Rep.} Barney Frank up and say I'm a reporter and what do you think about X?' But I think Fred Barnes and others on our staff can.

"We're smart enough to know if there's a monotonous voice and a single point of view to all our articles, it'll be boring. Even if I liked Phil Gramm terrifically, I wouldn't edit everyone else's prose to make sure they said nice things about Phil Gramm. It's not a personal bulletin board."

The first issue features no fewer than four pieces on Newt Gingrich. The Barnes cover story ("Permanent Offense"), built around an interview with the House speaker, began with a phone call from Gingrich challenging a previous Barnes prediction that the Republicans will soon be forced on the defensive. A piece by David McClintick (of "Indecent Exposure" fame) is based on four months of hanging out with Gingrich. Columnist Charles Krauthammer is mildly critical of Gingrich's book (the tome "fails," despite Gingrich's "extraordinary tactical skill and strategic vision"). And author David Frum dares suggest that the achievements of the 104th Congress are "both incomplete and disturbingly fragile."

Kristol, for his part, writes that Bob Dole could be out of the presidential race by Christmas and bets that the likely Republican nominee will be Colin Powell.

The minority party is not exactly neglected. Andrew Ferguson, a former Bush speechwriter, examines the conduct of congressional Democrats and concludes that they are "cracking up -- breaking down, wigging out, caving in, off to see the Wizard, bound for the nuthouse." No awards for understatement here.

The initial press run is 50,000, which the editors hope to double within three years. Still, in an age when conservatives dominate talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy) and hold their own on chat shows and op-ed pages (George Will, Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan when he's not running for president), is there a market for the Standard? Conservative magazine readers already have the National Review, the venerable biweekly founded by William F. Buckley Jr., and the American Spectator, the in-your-face monthly run by R. Emmett Tyrrell.

"With Murdoch's power behind them, they can make a good run at it," says Ed Capano, the National Review's publisher. "There's a market for a weekly. You don't get that kind of stuff from Time or Newsweek or U.S. News." Asked why his magazine never went weekly, Capano says, "We've spent almost 40 years losing money."

Tyrrell says political magazines are "cultural institutions that simply have to be subsidized." The Spectator was never profitable, he says, until circulation jumped from 30,000 to 300,000 in the last three years.

Murdoch plans to lose several million dollars the first year, raising questions about why the owner of the Fox network, 20th Century Fox, the Times of London, New York Post, TV Guide and HarperCollins wants to subsidize a political magazine. The conventional wisdom is that the conservative mogul is establishing a Washington beachhead, a political tool that he will wield the way his newspapers once brazenly championed Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

"I'm happy to talk to him about content," Kristol says. "I welcome his thoughts and ideas. But the notion he's doing this to get his foot in the door in Washington is, of course, ludicrous. He doesn't have any trouble getting his calls returned. If you're a businessman, the last thing you want is to have a magazine that's going to annoy (Michigan Rep.) John Dingell or (New York Sen.) Al D'Amato."

The magazine's editors, not surprisingly, insist that they will not serve as a mouthpiece for the Gingrich revolution. They tout themselves as a New Republic of the right, with lots of reporting that occasionally skewers their partisan allies. They even hope to attract some liberal subscribers.

"This is not a magazine Newt Gingrich is going to enjoy reading every week," Barnes says. "There will be critiques of bad liberal ideas, but also of bad conservative ideas and conservatives who are acting badly."

The Standard's direct-mail ads (900,000 pieces sent out so far) take a more ideological line: "Just when the liberals thought things couldn't get any worse . . . now it's our turn!" The fliers say the magazine will "lead the conservative charge . . . supplying ammunition . . . attacking particular legislation, supporting others."

The editors envision a high-minded approach that steers clear of we-hate-Hillary harangues. Barnes says, for example, that he would not have run David Brock's "Troopergate" story, the American Spectator piece that graphically detailed Bill Clinton's alleged extramarital flings. While he admires Brock, Barnes says, "we're a magazine on politics and policy, not on the sex life of a governor."

For two of the founding editors, publishing small but influential magazines may be a matter of genetics. Kristol's father, Irving, puts out the Public Interest, while Podhoretz's dad, Norman, recently retired after 35 years as editor of Commentary.

"A moment like this -- an era of conservative dominance -- comes along in the culture or in intellectual life very seldom," says deputy editor Podhoretz, a former Reagan speechwriter who has toiled for the Washington Times and New York Post. "You have to make the case day after day, week after week, and help the politicians make the case."

Kristol and Podhoretz decided the time was ripe for a new conservative weekly after the '94 elections. At the time, Kristol was making waves by firing off memos on GOP strategy that were often quoted by reporters. Now he'll simply eliminate the middleman.

Murdoch, a prime donor for the Project for the Republican Future, quickly agreed to underwrite Kristol's venture. Other Murdoch magazines provided the direct-mail lists and office computers; the conference table was a castoff from Murdoch's now-defunct Mirabella.

Freelance writers, however, won't see much of the Murdoch millions. The Standard will pay $250 for a 1,000-word piece, about average for a political magazine but pocket change by Vanity Fair standards.

The right-thinking staff includes David Brooks, who was the Wall Street Journal's editorial features editor; Ferguson, most recently at the Washingtonian; David Tell, opposition research chief for the Bush-Quayle campaign; and such contributors as Krauthammer, Frum, Tod Lindberg of the Washington Times and satirist P.J. O'Rourke.

"These are not new people or fresh voices, and they're from a narrow spectrum on the right," says Andrew Sullivan, the New Republic's editor. "My idea of magazines is you're always jousting against people in power. It's a little odd for a magazine to start specifically to celebrate the people who've just gotten into power."

When Kristol is asked why the editorial staff -- except for co-managing editor Claudia Winkler, from Scripps-Howard -- consists of white guys, he responds that diversity "is not a virtue in and of itself." He has, however, hired Pat Buchanan's sister as his secretary.

The 72-page debut issue -- which includes 30 pages of ads, from General Motors and Philip Morris to the Hoover Institute and Federalist Society -- has more cultural criticism than one might expect from this politics-for-breakfast crew. There is a revisionist obituary of flamboyant lawyer William Kunstler, an attack on Sports Illustrated, a roasting of the celebrities who rallied behind death-row convict Mumia Abu-Jamal, an exploration of asbestos lawyer/Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and a critique of politically correct sex books.

At first, the Standard-setters thought they could get their friends from academia and politics to write stirring pieces about the conservative cause. They soon learned that most of those folks couldn't write. "I've discovered the phrase It's not quite right for us,' " Kristol says.

Kristol, who recently returned from peddling car ads in Detroit, doesn't rule out employment in a future Republican White House. But for now, he says, he will give only general advice to presidential candidates. "If Phil Gramm calls and says What do you think we should do about welfare?' I'll tell him just as I'd tell Bob Dole or you or David Brinkley," he says. "I'm not pretending to be some kind of journalist who has a strict separation of advocacy and reporting. This is an opinion magazine."

Will the $2.95 publication make a ripple in the vast sea of Washington punditry? And how will Kristol & Co. know if it is a success?

"You know whether something is clicking or not," Podhoretz says. "Take Tina Brown's New Yorker, which I detest. She's turned it into a Hollywood glitz rag. But you understand why it's a much better product than a few years ago. It's hotter, it's livelier, people talk about it more."

Toward that end, Kristol is "shamelessly" stealing one of Brown's tricks. Tomorrow morning, about 200 Washington movers and shakers will have advance copies of the Standard hand-delivered to their doorsteps -- the better to create the requisite buzz. CAPTION: Standard editors Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz and Fred Barnes. "This is not a magazine Newt Gingrich is going to enjoy reading every week," Barnes says.