Good Luck, David Remnick
Jude Wanniski
July 15, 1998

 

Memo To: David Remnick, The New Yorker
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Congratulations and Good Luck

Si Newhouse clearly made the best possible decision in asking you to succeed Tina Brown as editor of The New Yorker. In the years she has been at the magazine, you have really been her only find. I've been reading the magazine since roughly 1952, in my sixteenth year, and I do believe it is one of the reasons I decided to become a writer. I was happy to see you quoted as desiring to bring back more humor to the magazine, as it was S.J. Perelman's marvelous little satires that first drew me to it. From the 1970s onward, perhaps reflecting the Zeitgeist, that kind of humor disappeared, and I can't say Tina Brown did anything to bring it back. The backpage "Shouts and Murmurs" is supposed to be funny, I guess, but is so in a campus newspaper kind of way, not in the Perelman tradition. You will have to find and develop such talent, as I don't see much of it around. It has to be relearned, and I think it will be, as the tendentiousness that characterized the Vietnam years and the Cold War slips behind us.

In recent years I have again subscribed to the magazine at home, although it has been coming into the Polyconomics office without fail for 20 years. What made the difference was Tina's hiring of Sid Blumenthal to write political pieces, and while Sid let me down somewhat with his puff pieces on his friends Bill and Hillary, I have maintained enough interest to page through it every week, enjoying the cartoons as always, but also enjoying your work. You've always been marvelous in profiling Jewish literary figures, and I freshly recall reading with great pleasure your piece on Alfred Kazin in the June 22 issue, following his death on June 5. When the July 20 number arrived, I noted you were writing about drugs in the Amish community, and I decided to skip it, given the amount of stuff I have to read and my relatively low interest in drugs in the Amish community. When you were named editor, I decided to go back and read the piece, and was reminded about your skills as a reporter, and your energy.

You've always been poetic in your wordsmithing, even in your political pieces. Do you remember our assessments of you in the MediaGuide, which we published for several years? We quoted from an October 12, 1987 cover story in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine on Alger Hiss: "He stumbles over roots and curbs he cannot see. His breath is wheezy and short. His eyes are blue as cornflowers, but they have failed him in old age, giving him only the cloudy curve of the headstones, the weary bending of trees in the wind. 'As you can tell,' says Alger Hiss, I'm a very old man.'"

How will you be as an editor? We will see much less of your writing, I imagine. Getting out a magazine every week will mean you have little time for anything but shaping the contents, thinking ahead of the Zeitgeist so you can be prepared when it arrives, and discovering fresh talent. Tina didn't do much of that, which is why I think we have to say she failed. If you can produce three or four new writers of your caliber - or better you will succeed. One suggestion I have is that you get a lozen issues at random from the 1950s and read through them for a hread. What you're looking for is a brilliance that will appeal to a 16-year old Jude Wanniski or a 16-year old David Remnick. If you can ;et them interested in the magazine, the older folks will follow in Iroves, as they are all little boys and girls at heart.
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