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Overworked New Democrats aren’t going to like this one: The New Republic just canceled its debut cruise in the Caribbean.
The counterintuitively centrist opinion mag had been running full-page ads promoting an October tour on the deluxe Holland America cruise liner Zaandam with ports of call including Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. The pitches tempted brainy readers by offering the company of six New Republic staffers prepped to give seminars and spout wonkery from stern to bow.
Subscribers, though, weren’t buying. “We just tested it out to see if there was overwhelming interest,” says New Republic President & Publisher Stephanie Sandberg. “There was some interest, but not enough.”
“It appears our readers aren’t really cruisers,” says Sandberg.
How’s that? As any cruise-organizing publication will tell you, everyone is a cruiser-in-waiting.
Even readers of the lefty Nation. Since the late ’90s, Nation staffers have been trashing the conservative agenda on the high seas at a tidy profit. According to Publisher and Editorial Director Victor Navasky, the annual cruises yield between “$50,000 and a couple of hundred thousand dollars, depending on the variables.” Nation buys cabins from the cruise line at a discount, and cruisers pay full price for passage. The magazine takes the difference as profit.
The concept of putting a bunch of ideologically compatible readers on the same ship with bottomless supplies of booze and shrimp originated with the National Review. In April 1994, the magazine drafted a couple of then-unknown politicians named Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey to test the waters with regular old right-wingers. When it came time to cast off, just after the November ’94 elections, the cruise co-captains had become the soon-to-be-christened leaders of the Republican revolution. Since then, National Review’s cruise biz has swelled: According to Associate Publisher Jack Fowler, the magazine’s maritime expeditions have pulled in as many as 475 guests at a time.
Both the National Review and the Nation draft special speakers to boost the drawing potential of the less-famous staff writers who hop on board. In addition to Gingrich and Armey, for example, the National Review has recruited the likes of Ken Starr, Alexander Haig, and Robert Bork. The Nation has invited Studs Terkel, E.L. Doctorow, and Lani Guinier, among others.
And the New Republic’s lineup? That would be Editor in Chief Martin Peretz, Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier, Senior Editors Michelle Cottle and Lawrence F. Kaplan, and Associate Editors Ryan Lizza and Michael Crowley.
The magazine appeared to recognize that its lineup had less star power than a weak episode of The Love Boat. “More Speakers To Be Announced!” reads the cruise’s Web promo.
“Maybe they were counting on people confusing me with Herbert Croly. He was one of our most revered New Republic editors,” says Crowley.
Says Sandberg: “We thought we’d try a cruise with the editors.”
In all likelihood, the magazine’s savvy neo-liberoconservative readers saw through the cruise-ad copy. For instance, the New Republic promised “Exclusive Seminars on the Middle East and the 2004 Election.”
Translation: a public rehearsal of Peretz’s impenetrable “Diarist” rants.
Among the other sweeteners: “Dining with Speakers,” “Private Receptions,” and “Traveling with fellow TNR Readers.”
According to National Review’s Fowler, it doesn’t take much to coax your readership to get on the ship. “A cruise is an enjoyable thing to begin with,” he says. —Erik Wemple