If, 20 years ago, I told you that you looked fantastic, would that have any bearing on how attractive I might find you today? Of course not. All praise and flattery eventually clock out and must be renewed to remain valid. This is the long way of saying that the Washington Monthly should update the subscription ad it runs in its own pages and in other political magazines to reflect, um, the year 2002.
On the inside back cover of the latest Washington Monthly (July-August), an in-house ad quotes this approving copy about the Monthly from the New York Times: “Pitiless … indispensable … with a critical wit and steel-trap reporting.”
The problem with the quotation is two-fold. In addition to being ancient, the endorsement is actually a composite of three different and very old New York Times pieces.
The biggest chunk of the endorsement, “with a critical wit and steel-trap reporting,” appeared in a two-decades-old, two-paragraph “Briefings” item about George Wallace’s lapsed subscription to the magazine on Sept. 18, 1982. The words “pitiless” and “indispensable” appear nowhere in the story.
You’ve got to dial the Nexis machine back to June 9, 1980, to a review of Monthly founder Charles Peters’ book How Washington Really Worksto find the magazine first described “pitiless” by the Times. (An April 22, 1982, Times profile of Peters repeated the “pitiless” assessment, writing that the magazine “scrutinizes the Washington scene with the pitiless lens of a journalistic microscope.”)
What about the proximity of the word “indispensable” to “the Washington Monthly” in the Times? A capsule review of Peters’ autobiography, Tilting at Windmills, in the July 3, 1988, New York TimesBook Review calls Peters indispensable—but not his magazine: “The founder and editor of The Washington Monthly tells how insatiable curiosity and strong opinions turned a lawyer into a journalist indispensable for his magazine and for his influence on younger journalists.”
Using the Monthly copywriters’ William S. Burroughs-esque cut-and-paste technique on the same ancient Times articles I assembled this new and improved hype line for the magazine: “Charlie’s gospel … keeps a sharp eye on … what went wrong at Machu Picchu.” The Monthly has Slate’s permission to run this hype their next in-house ad.
(Addendum: Those Washington Monthly editors sure can take a gentle flogging without getting mad. See the newly minted endorsement they’re now running on their Web site.)