The 10 Most Appalling Articles in the Weekly Standard’s Short and Dreadful Life

From its coverage of Iraq and gay marriage to Syria and climate change, here are plenty of reasons for everyone to dance on the Weekly Standard's grave.

Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept

The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine founded in 1995 by William Kristol and Fred Barnes with Rupert Murdoch’s money, has expired. Its final issue will be published on Monday.

Most famous for making the case for the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the magazine was born just one year before Murdoch created Fox News. Both outlets were extremely effective at achieving the same goals via different tactics. Fox was chum for the rubes; the Weekly Standard was chum for Ivy League rubes. Fox pushed mindless belligerence, conspiracism, and a deep hatred for reality; the Weekly Standard did the same thing, but with less cleavage and more quotes from Cicero. (In 2009, Murdoch sold it to Philip Anschutz, a fellow billionaire who, if anything, is more conservative than Murdoch.)

Put another way, Fox was the conservative movement’s amygdala, while the Weekly Standard was its cerebrum, both driving it forward until Donald Trump’s election proved that the movement no longer needed any higher brain functions. But together, they played a powerful role in pushing the GOP to where it stands today.

Nonetheless, the Weekly Standard’s death has brought murmurs of ambivalent grief from more reputable corners of the media. The Atlantic says, “‘The Weekly Standard’ Is Ending on a High Note.” According to Slate, “The Weekly Standard’s Dismantling Is Terrible News for Conservatism and Journalism.”

But ignore this. Anyone rational will dance joyously on the Weekly Standard’s grave. Yes, in this media climate, it’s distressing to see any journalistic institution collapse — even ones that got Iraq completely wrong. Fortunately, the Weekly Standard was not a journalistic institution. To understand this, look at this list of all the huge stories broken by its intrepid reporters:

[sound of faint coughing]

And while it’s true that the Weekly Standard provided a perch for some #NeverTrumpers, there’s no reason to believe that if it had survived it would have somehow generated a rebirth of non-Trump conservatism. This is because, in the three years since Trump burst into American politics like an infected cyst, #NeverTrumpers have accomplished exactly nothing in this area.

More importantly, as demonstrated by the 10 atrocious articles below from the Weekly Standard’s 23 years, no one should want the magazine’s vicious ideology within a million miles of American politics. If the only paths forward for conservatism are Trump’s and the Weekly Standard’s, then Americans need to smother conservatism as quickly as possible.

So R.I.P. Weekly Standard, 1995-2018. As difficult as this moment must be for all who cared about it, they can take solace in the fact that many publications have been repeatedly wrong, and even humiliatingly ridiculous — but almost no other magazine can be as certain that they truly affected the world by making it far, far worse.

1. “The Collapse of the Dream Palaces” by David Brooks, 2003

The top four places on this list rightfully belong to the Weekly Standard’s voluble case for, and defense of, the Iraq War. And this David Brooks article is unquestionably the most horrifying of them all.

From the Weekly Standard’s April 28, 2003, issue — that is, a month after the U.S. invasion of Iraq — this may simultaneously be the worst, funniest, and most terrifying writing ever published in the English language. For instance, its opening paragraph includes the phrase, “Now that the war in Iraq is over.” You must read it for yourself; it cannot be explained, only experienced.

What you may find is that it makes you feel as though a sweaty, middle-aged man is pointing a gun at you and fervently explaining that people like you, who wear red shirts, are human scum, and you, all of you, are about to get what’s coming to you, at last. Then you look down and notice you are not wearing a red shirt, but the man with the gun is.

When you’re finished reading the piece, remember that this was published just five months before the New York Times hired Brooks as an op-ed writer. In other words, the Times saw this gibbering, so disconnected from reality it is functionally insane, and thought: This is exactly who we want explaining the world to our readers.

2. “What to Do About Iraq” by Robert Kagan and William Kristol, 2002

“The Iraqi threat is enormous,” Robert Kagan and Kristol wrote at the beginning of 2002. “It gets bigger with every day that passes. … If too many months go by without a decision to move against Saddam, the risks to the United States may increase exponentially.” Say what you will with your 20/20 hindsight, but you can’t deny they totally called this.

“We hear from many corners that it is still too early to ask this question. If you mention the word Iraq, respectable folks at the State Department and on the New York Times op-ed page get red-faced.” Ha ha, those wimps!

“We know … that Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of September 11, went out of his way to meet with an Iraqi intelligence official a few months before he flew a plane into the World Trade Center. … There is no debate about the facts.” Once again, they were 100 percent right.

As the writer John Lingan observed on Friday, “The war in Iraq outlasted the Weekly Standard.”

3. “Case Closed” by Stephen F. Hayes, 2004

Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard’s second and final editor after Kristol, is uncannily similar to the reporter character W.W. Beauchamp in the Clint Eastwood movie “Unforgiven.” Like Beauchamp, Hayes is deeply interested in men with guns, and loves to follow them around and carefully write down what they tell him.

Hayes spent years trying to prove that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were collaborators. “Case Closed” is a perfect example of his work, in that Hayes successfully demonstrates two things: first, Iraq had fewer ties to Al Qaeda than any other Gulf state; and second, he is the world’s most gullible human being. Here, Hayes faithfully scribbled down the pensées of Douglas J. Feith, then undersecretary of defense, and known at the Pentagon as “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth.”

4. “The Bumpy Road to Democracy in Iraq” by Fred Barnes, 2004

“Operation Iraqi Freedom has gained impressive momentum,” Barnes told us when he ventured to Baghdad a year after the Iraq War began. But like so many of history’s pith-helmeted white people, Barnes was concerned by the recalcitrance of the dusky natives.

Iraqis, wrote Barnes, “need an attitude adjustment. … Iraqis are difficult to deal with. They’re sullen and suspicious and conspiracy-minded. … Papers obsess on the subject of brutal treatment of innocent Iraqis by American soldiers.” But Barnes knew Iraqis were being treated well by U.S. troops, because the troops were super nice to him.

Barnes concluded by saying that he wanted to see Iraqis demonstrate “an outbreak of gratitude for the greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another.” Although Barnes didn’t mention it, it was impressive that we’d broken the record America set during the Vietnam War, which, as the editor of U.S. News & World Report put it in 1966, was “the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.”

5. “Breaking the Climate Spell” by Rupert Darwell, 2017

The Weekly Standard has published dozens upon dozens of articles ridiculing anyone who believes climate change is real and a serious problem. But perhaps their best work on the subject is this piece by Rupert Darwell, author of the book “Green Tyranny: Exposing the Totalitarian Roots of the Climate Industrial Complex.” I haven’t read this tome, but I think we can be sure it reveals that the Nazis were actually socialists. It’s right there in their name!

In any case, this particular Darwell article is about how smart Trump was to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change accord. “Trump is breaking the spell of inevitability of the transition to renewable energy,” Darwell writes excitedly. “The impression of irresistible momentum has been one of the most potent tools in enforcing compliance with the climate catechism. Like socialism, the clean-energy transition will fail because it doesn’t work.” Don’t get mad, snowflakes; that’s just science.

6. “Campus Disrupter” by Naomi Schaefer Riley, 2018

It’s hard to remember in the age of Trump, but conservatives used to be fixated on the fear that American universities were no longer teaching the classics of Western civilization. This article is one of several of this type published by the Weekly Standard.

Whatever the merits of the Western classics, read this from Book II, Chapter XXXI of Machiavelli’s “Discourses on Livy.” Then think about the Iraq War and ask yourself whether Kristol, who has a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University, has ever actually read these old books:

It ought to be considered, therefore, how vain are the faith and promises of those who find themselves deprived of their country … such is the extreme desire in them to return home, that they naturally believe many things that are false and add many others by art, so that between those they believe and those they say they believe, they fill you with hope, so that relying on them you will incur expenses in vain, or you undertake an enterprise in which you ruin yourself. … A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury.

7. “Are Syria’s Chemical Weapons Iraq’s Missing WMD? Obama’s Director of Intelligence Thought So” by Mark Hemingway, 2017

It was inevitable that someone on the right would be stupid enough to write this, and the Weekly Standard would be the magazine stupid enough to publish it.

First, Mark Hemingway notes that in 2003, James Clapper, who later became director of national intelligence under Barack Obama, bloviated about how we weren’t finding any chemical weapons in Iraq because they’d probably been moved to Syria. But Iraq wouldn’t have had any incentive to do this. Even if they’d been hiding chemical weapons, they’re easy to make, and it would have been far simpler to just dump them and then manufacture more when the coast was clear. And Syria had no incentive to do this, since it already had huge quantities of its own chemical weapons, and taking in Iraq’s would have invited its own destruction. Most importantly, the CIA spent $1 billion investigating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, and found no evidence that this happened. In fact, the CIA determined, “Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter” (emphasis in original). Thus what Clapper’s words indicate is not that Iraqi chemical weapons were moved to Syria, but that Clapper had no idea what he was talking about.

Then, Hemingway learnedly explained that while “it was largely downplayed by the media, American troops in Iraq also stumbled across caches of chemical weapons.” Doesn’t this suggest that Bush was right and some of them might have ended up in Syria? No. What Hemingway doesn’t mention is the other people who downplay this: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. That is because his theory is so, so stupid. (Anyone curious can read about the whole dumb issue here.)

8. “The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage,” by Sam Schulman, 2009

Here, Sam Schulman first expresses amazement at the rapidity with “which gays have attained the right to hold jobs — even as teachers and members of the clergy,” and explains “all these rights … have made gays not just ‘free’ but our neighbors.” (In the past all LGBT Americans were apparently sequestered away in underground caverns.) Also, the only reason for marriage is “protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex.”

Then Schulman frets that gay marriage will obviously lead to brothers marrying brothers and fathers marrying sons. But on the other hand, he’s concerned that unmarried gay sex won’t face greater social sanction than married gay sex, and plaintively asks, “But without social disapproval of unmarried sex—what kind of madman would seek marriage?” The upshot is that after the initial excitement of gay incest marriage, all the gay Americans will realize marriage is pointless and will stop getting married; this will cause marriage of all genres to collapse (?); and human society will evaporate.

9. “He Was Honest, Eventually” by The Scrapbook, 2018

On its surface, this is simply a banal unsigned post on a Weekly Standard blog about Obama and “Medicare for All.” But it deserves recognition because it was published just as it was revealed that Facebook had chosen the Weekly Standard as one of five U.S. publications to which it would outsource fact-checking. Hence, the magazine showed real moxie here by managing to make three glaring factual errors in two sentences.

First, Medicare would not entail “the full-on nationalization of the health-care industry.” Rather, it would entail nationalization of much of the health care insurance industry. Anyone who doesn’t understand the difference doesn’t understand this issue at all.

Second, Medicare is not “America’s most expensive and worst-run health-care program.” Medicare is by no means expensive. The Weekly Standard knows this, because when it’s found it useful to, it’s argued that Medicare isn’t expensive enough — i.e., that “Medicare for All” wouldn’t work because Medicare’s reimbursement rates are too low. Also, people covered by Medicare like it more than those with private insurance.

Third, if “Medicare for All” were to cost “$32 trillion” over the next 10 years, that wouldn’t make it “a plan that’s not remotely affordable for a nation with the budgetary obligations of the United States.” In fact, at $32 trillion “Medicare for All” would lower total U.S. health care spending. So if you’re worried about America’s “budgetary obligations,” “Medicare for All” is the way to go.

Presumably the Weekly Standard notified Facebook of the inaccuracies in this article so that Facebook could cut off all traffic to it.

10. “Going Soft on Iran” by Reuel Marc Gerecht, 2004

The Weekly Standard quickly became the most strident voice for neoconservatism in the U.S. And as we know, there’s nothing neoconservatives care about more than democracy. In this article, former CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht writes of his yearning for Iranians to experience it. If you want to read more about how much the Weekly Standard supports democracy in Iran, well, there’s a lot there for you.

Some people ask why the neoconservatives who care so much about democracy in Iran don’t seem to get upset about attacks on democracy here in America, things they could do something about, like voter suppression. Or why the Bush administration’s neoconservatives tried to stage a coup to overturn the results of a democratic Palestinian election. Or why the neoconservatives in the Reagan administration supported death squads in Central America. Or why the proto-neoconservatives in the 1950s cared so much about democracy in China, yet didn’t care at all about the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Ignore these cynics and the “evidence” they cite about the “actions” of the neoconservatives. The Weekly Standard expressed their love for democracy not with boring old actions, but with what truly matters: words. That settles that.

Honorable Mention. Self-Flattering Quote by Anonymous Weekly Standard Minion, 2018

This isn’t an article, but deserves to be included here due to its timeless, crystalline beauty: According to a nameless Weekly Standard staffer, the magazine’s original masthead constituted “one of the greatest collections of writerly talent ever put together outside the New Yorker.”

What makes this so perfect is that it shows the Weekly Standard training its keen power of observation upon itself. Just as Iraq was transformed in the magazine’s imagination from a ruined shell of a nation into a mighty, terrifying threat to all humanity, Tucker Carlson, John Podhoretz, and Charles Krauthammer somehow become James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, and E.B. White. No matter the subject, the Weekly Standard assessed it with the exact same hubris, blindness, and lunatic hyperbole.

Correction: December 17, 2018, 9:56 a.m.
An earlier version of this piece referred to the article “He Was Honest, Eventually” as being written by Gary Locke. Locke was the illustrator for the piece, which was an unsigned post on a Weekly Standard blog, The Scrapbook.

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