Enigma

National Review Cover: Enigma

In a span of 252 days, the National Review lost two Buckleys — one to death, another to resignation — and an election.

Now, thanks to the coarsening effect of the Internet on political discourse, the magazine may have lost something else: its reputation as the cradle for conservative intellectuals and home for erudite and well-mannered debate prized by its founder, the late William F. Buckley Jr.

In the general conservative blogosphere and in The Corner, National Review’s popular blog, the tenor of debate — particularly as it related to the fitness of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to be vice president — devolved into open nastiness during the campaign season, laying bare debates among conservatives that in a pre-Internet age may have been kept behind closed doors.

National Review, as the most pedigreed voice of conservatives, has often been tainted — unfairly and by association, some argue — by the tone of blogs, reader comments and e-mail messages. “Bill was always very concerned about having a high-minded and thoughtful discourse,” Rich Lowry, the magazine’s editor, said. “If you read the magazine, that’s what it was and that’s what it is.”

In October came the resignation of Mr. Buckley’s son, the writer and satirist Christopher Buckley, after he endorsed Barack Obama for president. He did so on Tina Brown’s blog, The Daily Beast, to avoid any backlash on The Corner.

“I am really and truly frightened by the collapse of support for the Republican Party by the young and the educated,” David Frum said.

Now David Frum, a prominent conservative writer who enmeshed himself in a minor dustup during the campaign by turning negative on Governor Palin, is leaving, too. In an interview, he said he planned to leave the magazine, where he writes a popular blog, to strike out on his own on the Web.

“The answers to the Republican dilemma are not obvious and we need a vibrant discussion,” he said. “I think a little more distance can help everybody do a better job of keeping their temper.”

Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor at National Review and probably has a bigger store of institutional knowledge than anyone, having written his first article, in 1970. “I think the tone of what we do, I’m certainly proud of,” he said. “You can’t be responsible for the world.”

Against the Wind

National Review Cover: Against the Wind

The magazine faces the twin challenges of re-energizing the conservative movement while trying to stay relevant itself amid a shifting media landscape that is challenging the authority of all old-line media institutions.

“There’s a lot of thinking to be done,” said Mr. Lowry, in the magazine’s mostly empty New York offices two days after Mr. Obama won the presidency. Nearly all the staff was getting ready to go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a postelection fund-raising cruise in which readers, editors and guest speakers mix for a week of conservative conversation, but Mr. Lowry stayed behind to put out the new issue.

“We’ve always had rigorous internal debates,” he said. “But the advent of the blogosphere and e-mail and the rest of it have made it easier to blast out their impassioned instant reactions.

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