"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wSaturday, March 02, 2002

POOR SPENCER REISS: He is by most accounts a decent journalist and a nice guy, the obligatory oxymoron notwithstanding. But after stints at Newsweek and Wired, he got sucked into the Gilder vortex. In order to transform The American Spectator into a right wing Wired, he has to a) restore the credibility that the previous management pissed away and b) restore the good will that his immediate predecessor pissed away. That's a lot of piss to clean up on a shoestring budget.

His prospects appear to be getting worse, not better. The Spectator has shed pages and staff. Last march, it had seven senior editors. Now it has one. The layout, several editors have told me, stinks. The famous book review section has gone the way of the dodo bird, replaced by mostly asinine book excerpts. The newsstand distribution now moves at a molasses pace. Worse, Reiss has been forced to (or suicidally chosen to) rely upon way too much reprint material. The current issue, for instance, features articles by Michael Kelly, John Strausbaugh and John Tierney, but all three could be had for free, via the web, from their original publishers. Even the brief, exclusive Tom Wolfe essay fails to justify the elephantine $6.95 cover price.

And what is with the lack of a web presence for the Spectator? I understand that George Gilder has made most of his money off limited circulation newsletters but this is a general interest magazine (OK, a general interest magazine with an eye toward right wing techno geeks, but still); its mother's milk is buzz and readership. It has no more buzz. The last time the Spectator briefly re-entered the consciousness of the chattering class was the brilliant postmortem (linked above) published in the Atlantic. It isn't good sign when it takes an obituary to get people talking. Certain people still read the Spectator but nobody - and I mean nobody - is excited about it anymore. And I'm betting that many less people are not excited about it. Gilder didn't just ease up subscription rates, he launched them. Any editor will tell you that "sticker shock" can be a bit of a bitch but I can't wait to see the obligatory circulation disclosure when it rolls around this year. Best bet: This time, she'll have been particularly nasty.

As things stand, I give the The American Spectator nine months - tops.

There is one upside to this whole fiasco for Reiss. If he can pull it out of its nosedive, that is. He will branded a miracle worker on the order of Hani the circle drawer. And he'll be able to name his own price

posted by Jeremy at 2:47 AM