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[Don't Quote Me]
Curious George
Gilder’s Spectator trades nutty right-wing scandal-mongering for nutty right-wing economics. Plus, women in radio, and freelance blues.


DAVID BROCK’S LATEST exercise in self-flagellation conjures up a time when his former employer, the American Spectator, really mattered. The Spectator was at the center of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” inveighed against by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Brock’s attacks on Anita Hill, as well as his “Troopergate” article about Bill Clinton’s rich and varied sex life, helped establish the Spectator as the leading journal of the Clinton-obsessed right. By 1994 its circulation was a remarkable 271,000.

It’s been a long, ugly slide. The impeachment farce hurt the Spectator more than it hurt Clinton; by the end of last year, paid circulation had fallen to about 81,000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Now Brock, who’s been apologizing for his right-wing muckraking for some years, claims he lied about Hill to protect Clarence Thomas, whom Hill had accused of sexual harassment. Earlier this spring Brock nearly derailed Theodore Olson’s nomination as solicitor general, charging that Olson was a key part of the so-called Arkansas Project, in which right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife funneled $2.4 million to the Spectator to finance an anti-Clinton media crusade.

But don’t write off the Spectator just yet. Last September the monthly was purchased by economist and author George Gilder, a leading supply-side guru whose tax-cutting philosophy first brought him to prominence during the Reagan era. To judge from recent issues, Gilder’s goal is to dump the magazine’s nutty right-wing scandal-mongering in favor of nutty right-wing economic proselytizing. The ’90s are dead! Long live the ’80s!

The June issue is a useful guide to the Gilderized Spectator. (A magazine spokeswoman says the July issue is running behind schedule and will not be available before the Phoenix’s deadline.) The cover features a striking photo of French supermodel Laetitia Casta in a lacy though not very revealing bra (these are conservatives, after all). A half-dozen years ago the news hook would have been that Clinton had slept with her, or had propositioned her, or had told unnamed but really, really good sources that he’d had impure thoughts about her. Not now. It turns out that Casta, the model for a new bust of “Marianne,” the patriotic symbol of French democracy, has moved to London in order to escape her homeland’s confiscatory taxes.

The centerfold, however, is not Laetitia Casta but George Gilder himself, who’s featured in a Q&A that calls to mind the late John Kennedy’s narcissistic essays in George. (A more apt comparison might be to the way publications such as O, Rosie, or Martha Stewart Living treat their founders.) The lead itself deserves special mention for its bootlicking obsequiousness: “Ok, so he signs our paychecks. But even if he didn’t, George Gilder would top our list of people whose ideas are worth a million times more than the paper they’re printed on.” Gilder must have been very, very pleased.

Gilder’s views are even more entertaining. Take, for instance, his opinion of George W. Bush’s $1.3 trillion tax cut, which he thinks is neither large enough nor skewed enough toward the rich: “It’s meaningless. There is no real tax-rate reduction.” On Rush Limbaugh: “He is the most important and effective Republican leader today and the most interesting,” a “genuine intellectual.” On environmentalism: “pretentious irrationality.” On God and taxes: “supply-side economics has a moral source: It’s based on freedom.... This is a religious belief ultimately, hearkening back to our own creation as free creatures.”

Gilder also says that “we bought the Spectator to have a vessel for the views of the investor class,” and all you have to do is page through the magazine to see the break from its scandal-mongering past. There’s a column urging the Bush administration to embrace the deregulatory views of former Clinton adviser Ira Magaziner, who after botching health care became a cheerleader for an unfettered Internet. Arthur Laffer, who memorably sketched out the effect of the Reagan tax cuts on a napkin (and who predicted surpluses, not the massive deficits that actually resulted), wants you to invest in Japanese stocks. Another column argues that those battered telecom stocks are terrific values.

Last week the Washington Post reported that the Spectator was eliminating half its 20-member staff and moving its headquarters to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Gilder lives and works. “We’re embedding the Spectator deeper into Gilder Publishing as an intellectual enterprise,” Gilder told the Post.

Long-time Spectator mainstay R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., who still holds the title of editor-in-chief, was on The Connection last Friday, attempting the tricky task of denouncing David Brock as a person while defending Brock’s reporting on such matters as Bill Clinton’s sexual appetites.

Tyrrell sneered about “the magical David Brock, who has this magical capacity to get the whole world to focus on him.” And when guest host Dick Gordon suggested that the Spectator apologize for a Brock book review that Brock now claims was tainted by a lie and the threat of blackmail, Tyrrell ranted that Gordon was an “authoritarian” and a “tyrant.”

It was fun, but it seemed so old, so irrelevant — so ’90s.

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Issue Date: July 5-12, 2001