The Washington Post

New Republic owner quashes reports of journal’s sale

Despite reports to the contrary, the New Republic’s principal owner insists that the 98-year-old journal of liberal political opinion, reporting and arts criticism isn’t shopping for a new owner.

“There’s nothing there to the story,” e-mailed Martin Peretz in response to questions about published reports that the magazine he has owned or edited since 1974 is seeking new investors or an outright sale.

Citing unidentified sources, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported this week that the investor group that owns the magazine and its Web site was considering selling them. Both publications said the group had enlisted the Blackstone Group to help in a sale or “strategic” partnership.

Peretz denied it but did not respond to follow-up questions.

TNR, as it is known, is owned by a group headed by Peretz, a former Harvard professor who first bought control of the magazine 38 years ago. He sold a majority stake to CanWest Global Communications of Canada in 2007 but bought back his interest with other investors, including investment banker Laurence Grafstein, two years later. He is editor emeritus, having given up his editor in chief title in 2010.

Like many high-end “opinion” journals, TNR has struggled to remain profitable. Circulation of the biweekly publication, which has been falling steadily for years, stood at 53,485 in 2009, down from about 90,000 at the start of the decade, according to BPA Worldwide.

Nevertheless, the magazine has long been a respected force in liberal politics and among liberal thinkers. It has been the home of such writers as George Orwell and Walter Lippmann, one of its co-founders. In the 2003 movie “Shattered Glass” — based on a scandal involving former New Republic writer Stephen Glass’s fabricated stories for the magazine — one character describes TNR as “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One” during President Bill Clinton’s term.

Several companies whose names have surfaced in published reports appear to be unlikely buyers. Managers of the company shot down speculation that News Corp., the media and entertainment conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, was interested, a staff member said. News Corp. formerly owned the Washington-based Weekly Standard, a conservative journal.

Atlantic Media Co., the Washington-based publisher of the Atlantic magazine and National Journal, also will not bid, an Atlantic source said.

Bloomberg LP said it isn’t in the running, either: “We’re not interested,” said spokesman Ty Trippet.

One TNR employee who was briefed on internal discussions about the news reports said he was unaware of any financial crisis among the magazine’s owners. “My sense is that situation isn’t extremely urgent,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the magazine. “The owners don’t derive any real financial return now. There’s an emotional attachment, but they’re not distressed.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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