The Weekly Standard went out of business on Friday—killed by right-wing Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, who purchased the respected 23-year-old conservative journal from its original owner, Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, in 2009, for a reported $1 million.
“We are done,” Stephen F. Hayes, the Standard’s editor in chief, told his staff of nearly 40 Friday morning, after a brief meeting with executives of Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group in Washington, D.C.
Employees had their company email abruptly cut off on Friday; on Thursday, editors toiling to finish the final issue—which was emailed to an estimated 110,000 subscribers on Friday and will be circulated in a last print edition dated Dec. 17—had trouble gaining access to the Weekly Standard computer server, according to an email circulated among the staff.
It was unclear Friday how many, if any, Weekly Standard employees would be offered positions at the new weekly magazine being launched by Anschutz’s Washington Examiner newspaper—which has generally been much more friendly to President Donald Trump and his policies than the fiercely independent Standard co-founded in 1995 by former New Republic columnist Fred Barnes and Never Trump conservative pundit and ex-Republican operative Bill Kristol.
Murdoch patiently funded their magazine for 14 years, and it garnered praise for editorial excellence even as it consistently lost money—between $2 million and $4 million a year, according to a source familiar with the figures.
The magazine continued to lose similar amounts under Anschutz’s ownership, which didn’t prevent the billionaire from authorizing hires of new staff in the past two years before apparently losing enthusiasm.
Ironically, the Washington Examiner—the principal beneficiary of The Standard’s demise—is said to be even more unprofitable. Representatives of Clarity Media Group didn’t respond to a phone message seeking comment.
As the axe was falling this week, several Weekly Standard writers attributed the magazine’s death to incompetent business management and cluelessness as to the magazine’s mission by executives at Clarity’s Denver headquarters.
With the Weekly Standard breathing its last, Never Trump neoconservative John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine and a friend to many on the Standard’s staff, tweeted: “So there are non-disparagement clauses in the severance packages being given to the staffers at the Weekly Standard. I'm not a staffer. There will be much disparagement in this space and elsewhere, and factual disparagement as well.”
The death notice was widely expected in recent weeks, and Hayes and the magazine’s editors and supporters, including Kristol, had spent months attempting to organize a consortium of buyers to save the publication.
But Clarity chief executive Ryan McKibben had kept his plans in a shroud of secrecy and wouldn't permit a sale—presumably to cannibalize the Standard’s subscriber list for the Washington Examiner’s weekly and protect the new mag from competition.
Podhoretz added: “The murderers are Philip Anschutz and Ryan McKibben. They could have sold the Weekly Standard. They refused to. Nothing like this has ever happened in my half-century of experience with publishing. There were buyers. Potential buyers… In September, Clarity Media told those looking for buyers to stand down. Why would a company not wish to entertain a potential sale? Because it wanted to kill the magazine and harvest it.”
In the run-up to today’s announcement, Hayes had attempted to meet face-to-face with Anschutz to make his case, according to a knowledgeable source, but was told that the energy, entertainment and railroad billionaire was unavailable.
It was Anschutz who played a hands-on role in persuading Hayes—a prolific writer, book author and cable television pundit—to take the job in the first place, despite Hayes’ longstanding plans to live in Spain with his family.
According to multiple colleagues at the magazine, Hayes delayed the move but finally pulled the trigger this past year after being assured by McKibben and others that he could edit the magazine from Spain. Hayes didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment.
McKibben, who initially summoned Hayes for a meeting two weeks ago without telling him the purpose, didn’t inform the editor that it had actually been scheduled for 10 a.m. until early Friday morning.
In an all-hands email just after dawn, Hayes—who has been the Standard’s top editor for the past two years, having taken over from Kristol when he became editor at large—predicted the Standard’s demise and partially blamed it, by implication, on the magazine’s persistent critiques of Trump.
Anschutz, a GOP megadonor, is said to have become increasingly uncomfortable with The Weekly Standard’s uncompromising accounts of the president’s flaws.
Kristol, for one, wrote recently: “Donald Trump is in many ways a bad president—bad for the country, bad for conservatism, bad for the Republican party. His sway over party and policy should be limited as much as is feasible and his dominance of our politics not extended any longer than necessary.”
In his all-hands email, Hayes wrote, “This is a volatile time in American journalism and politics. Many media outlets have responded to the challenges of the moment by prioritizing affirmation over information, giving into the pull of polarization and the lure of clickbait. I’ll spare you the soapbox and the sanctimony. To put it simply: I’m proud that we’ve remained both conservative and independent, providing substantive reporting and analysis based on facts, logic and reason.”
Hayes added: “As many of you know, I was reluctant to accept the position for several reasons, among them the year in Spain I’d long planned with my family. There have certainly been some ups and downs over the past two years and I’m grateful for the patience you’ve shown as I’ve learned on the job. The highlight, without question, has been working with the exceptional TWS staff to produce journalism of the highest quality, in both our digital products and the print magazine.”
McKibben, in a statement published by The Wrap, explained the death of the Weekly Standard this way:
“The Weekly Standard has been hampered by many of the same challenges that countless other magazines and newspapers across the country have been wrestling with.
“Despite investing significant resources into the publication, the financial performance of the publication over the last five years—with double-digit declines in its subscriber base all but one year since 2013—made it clear that a decision had to be made. After careful consideration of all possible options for its future, it became clear that this was the step we needed to take.”
Kristol, meanwhile, tweeted optimistically that “we have much more to do. Onward.”