Figuring out what's wrong with Harper's magazine.

Media criticism.
Sept. 15 2004 7:06 PM

Lewis Lapham Phones It In

Figuring out what's wrong with Harper's magazine.

(Continued from Page 3)

Lapham declines the advances, but between Harper's stints, he met with the executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation, Michael Joyce, at Kristol's suggestion. Joyce was planning the magazine that would eventually become the New Criterion, a publication its backers hoped would "rebut and confound the ravings of the New York Review of Books," Lapham writes.

Lapham writes that Joyce offered him $200,000 a year to edit the new publication, to be paid even if he quit or retired. In a telephone interview, Joyce says he discussed the startup with Lapham in early 1982 but denies having offered him such an extraordinary sum or the job itself. "I was hardly in a position to offer him anything," Joyce says. The job went to Hilton Kramer in April 1982.

Advertisement

Lapham stands by his $200,000 story. "I reported the conversation the best that I remember it," he insists in a telephone interview. "It was an astonishing offer. And I can remember being astonished."

The story is made all the more astonishing when you run the numbers through an inflation calculator: $200,000 in 1982 dollars works out to $386,178 in 2003 dollars. Does any editor in foundation-financed journalism make that sort of money? Does anybody at the New Criterion make that sort of money today? The Form 990 filed for 2002 by the New Criterion's Foundation for Cultural Review lists Editor and Publisher Hilton Kramer earning $107,000 and Managing Editor Roger Kimball earning $137,265—a far cry from the sum Lapham claims to have been offered.

Is Lapham guilty of phoning the New Criterion story in? Or is he just engaging in poetic license and rhetorical invention?

Reviewing a Lapham book for the Wall Street Journal in 1988, David Brooks described Lapham as he once was, a "freethinker, free to the point of formless and self-contradictory. Sometimes he sounds like Abbie Hoffman, and other times like Milton Friedman; sometimes like Allan Bloom, other times like the lead guitarist of Iron Maiden."

Although Brooks is knocking Lapham, he inadvertently captures the multiple-personality disorder that made him an interesting editor. Lapham's magazine once contained multitudes, and so did he. But not anymore.

******

Disclosures: 1) I worked for two and half years in the early '80s for Inquiry magazine, which was funded by the libertarian Koch brothers. 2) Michael Kinsley, who hired me before Slate's launch, replaced Lapham as editor of Harper's,and he was replaced in turn by Lapham. Kinsley and Lapham snipe and snarl at one another from time to time, but I have no dog in that fight. Send your disclosures to pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 18 2014 1:34 PM Americans Fault Obama for Giving Them Exactly the Anti-ISIS Strategy They Want
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Doonan
Sept. 18 2014 2:00 PM On the Death of My Homophobic Dog I named him Liberace, but I couldn’t have chosen a less appropriate namesake for this coarse, emotionally withholding Norwich terrier.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Everyday That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 2:03 PM Ryan Adams’ New Song Is a Reminder That He’s One of His Generation’s Best Songwriters
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 1:24 PM Can the Celebrities Whose Photos Were Stolen Really Sue Apple? It may be harder to prove “harm” than it seems.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.