Editor’s note (December 15th 2018): The parent company of the Weekly Standard, Clarity Media, announced on December 14th that it was closing the magazine. This piece, published on December 8th, anticipated the announcement and considered the travails of conservative media in America under Donald Trump.
IN THE FINAL issue of November Stephen F. Hayes, the editor-in-chief of the Weekly Standard, published an article titled, “How Trump’s Lies About Russia Were Exposed”. President Donald Trump “lies all the time”, Mr Hayes wrote bluntly, before concluding that the truth about Russia may come to light: “The sooner, the better.”
If so, Mr Hayes’s magazine probably will not be around to cover it. On December 4th Mr Hayes informed staffers that the future of the publication is in doubt. Philip Anschutz, the magazine’s owner, and his top publishing executive have grown weary of the criticism of Mr Trump, according to sources. The magazine looks likely to be a casualty of Donald Trump’s takeover of conservatism.
The Weekly Standard, started by William Kristol and Fred Barnes in 1995 as part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, was an influential and neoconservative voice throughout the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But Mr Kristol was an early critic of Mr Trump, whom he viewed as betraying conservative principles. He and a few colleagues like Mr Hayes did not waver as Mr Trump won the nomination and election.
Since then Trumpism has co-opted much of the conservative media. Outlets like Breitbart News, the Daily Caller and Fox News aligned themselves with Mr Trump early on. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has come around. The National Review, which in January 2016 eviscerated the candidate with an issue titled “Against Trump”, has since taken a more accommodating line, while still continuing to employ and publish some Trump antagonists.
This change in tone reflects a shift among Republicans. But it also reflects the will of the owners and financiers of media outlets. Mr Murdoch, a confidant of Mr Trump, runs Fox News, and his News Corp owns the Wall Street Journal (he sold the Weekly Standard to Mr Anschutz in 2009). Breitbart is backed by Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, who support Mr Trump. The National Review and Daily Caller also rely on donations from wealthy conservatives who, whether or not they like Mr Trump (and some do), have no interest in upsetting him.
“You have a lot of incentives not to be at war with the Trump administration,” Mr Kristol says. “If you’re a Republican donor and maybe you don’t want to be ambassador to the Court of St James, but maybe your friend does, you’re not going to start a fight with Trump.”
The Weekly Standard’s consistent approach to the 45th president has found an audience online—the website drew 2.6m readers in October according to ComScore, a research firm. But the printed version has struggled under its unenthusiastic owner, who also owns another conservative publication more friendly to Mr Trump, the Washington Examiner. The Weekly Standard has always depended on cash infusions from its owner to survive. Mr Kristol and Mr Hayes are now said to be interested in starting a publication to succeed it. They will need patrons who do not mind being snubbed at Mar-a-Lago.