New Republic Editor Charles Lane resigned yesterday after learning that owner Martin Peretz was planning to replace him.
Lane, who ran the magazine for just two years, will be succeeded by Peter Beinart, a 28-year-old Yale graduate who is close to Peretz.
The strange thing about the denouement is that Lane and Peretz had no discussions about it until yesterday, following an inquiry by a Washington Post reporter. Lane had been testing the job waters for a change soon, while Peretz was quietly planning to install Beinart--and neither knew of the other's maneuvering.
"I think I've accomplished what I can accomplish," Lane said after telling the staff he is stepping down to become an editor-at-large. "I'm going to enjoy writing. I really do need to stop inflicting the late hours and anxious weekends on my wife and kid. . . . People can say what they want. I think this is the appropriate step for me to take."
Senior writer Gregg Easterbrook says that "Chuck has done a tremendous job in the last two years. Were there problems? Sure. Chuck had some disputes with Marty, but that's been true of every single New Republic editor. Marty often felt Chuck wasn't doing enough to get ahead of the news, to react quickly to the news, but that's a complaint you could make against any intellectual magazine."
As for Beinart, he says the magazine has been "like a home to me" but that it "really only has a reason to exist if it's saying things other people haven't yet said or are too timid to say, or is saying it faster." A self-described liberal, he says he wants to tackle "the very difficult question of what liberalism means in America today."
Overtly, at least, there was no ideological break between Peretz, a longtime friend of Vice President Gore, and Lane, who had allowed the magazine to take shots at Gore and joined in the criticism himself. In that sense, it was unlike Peretz's 1997 decision to fire Michael Kelly over his harsh criticism of Gore and President Clinton and replace him with Lane.
Interestingly, though, Beinart's "TRB" column in this week's issue castigates Gore's opponent, Bill Bradley, for being "dangerously naive" about race relations. Beinart confirms that he is a Gore supporter, but says the magazine must "write critically about people who we like and people with whom we disagree, and that's what we plan to do with Al Gore."
The Washington-based magazine, with Peretz as a strong-willed editor-in-chief in Cambridge, is famous as a setting of intrigue and conspiracy. Several staffers, while praising Lane's performance, say he appeared burned out--he developed neck pains that colleagues attributed to stress--and that there was a feeling of lethargy in the office.
"There wasn't any out-and-out dissension in the ranks about Chuck," a staffer says. "No one was clamoring for his head." This and other staffers describe Beinart, who has done a stint as executive editor, as a popular figure long viewed as a successor-in-waiting.
"Peter is enormously gifted," Easterbrook says. "There's a chance he can be a brilliant editor. He's on Marty's wavelength."
Lane, a former Newsweek reporter, is best known for firing associate editor Stephen Glass last year after forcing him to admit that he made up an article about a teenage computer hacker. Lane apologized to readers after his investigation found fabrications in two-thirds of the 41 articles Glass had written. Some colleagues credit Lane with saving the magazine's credibility.
"I've tried very hard to uphold standards, even in very adverse circumstances like the Stephen Glass affair," Lane says. He says he assembled "a good nucleus of talent" and "tended to the magazine's bread and butter, politics and public policy."
Peretz, who declined to comment, told Lane in a letter that he was "grateful" to the editor for "steering the ship in the [magazine's] old logo steadily and with both prudence and daring."