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The New Republic Gets a New Owner—and Editorial Director

Deep-pocketed Democratic Party money man Winthrop McCormack just bought the venerable magazine, and Hamilton Fish V will oversee its content.

02.27.16 12:55 AM ET

It looks like reports of the death of The New Republic have been greatly exaggerated.

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who accumulated his estimated $700 million fortune after rooming at Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg, has sold the 101-year-old liberal journal to a literary, old-money Democratic mega-donor who has hired a well-pedigreed progressive publisher to run the place.

Fans of The New Republic cheered the transaction—announced on Friday, for an undisclosed sum—as a chance for the troubled magazine to restore itself to fiscal health and journalistic quality.

“I think this might be the best of all possible worlds when the reality is that the magazine could have easily just disappeared,” said a longtime TNR veteran and severe critic of Hughes who asked not to be identified by name.

Hughes identified TNR’s new owner, and potential savior, as Portland, Oregon publisher and deep-pocketed Democratic Party money man Winthrop McCormack. His under-the-radar profile in the Acela Corridor belies his background as the Greenwich, Connecticut-reared scion of a Midwestern banking fortune.

The Harvard-educated McCormack, 70—founding editor of the Tin House literary quarterly and book publisher, as well as founder of Oregon magazine and co-founder of Mother Jones—has hired as TNR’s new publisher and editorial director a widely respected former publisher of The Nation magazine, Hamilton Fish V.

McCormack, an unflashy type who brandishes but doesn’t smoke a pipe, has contributed millions of dollars to Democratic Party candidates and liberal causes over the years.

“I expect it will be more like The New Republic and less like what it is now,” predicted former TNR editor Hendrik Hertzberg, a vocal critic of Hughes’s ownership record. “Ham [Fish] is marinated in the whole culture of the liberal literary weekly, having spent many years at The Nation…Politically The New Republic will be occupying or overlapping the same space.”

Hughes, meanwhile, said in a statement: “When I announced my intention to sell The New Republic last month, my goal was to find the right steward to ensure that TNR continues to be impactful and relevant. I had many conversations with qualified candidates, and of those I ultimately concluded that Win McCormack and Ham Fish are those stewards. Their backgrounds in journalism and progressive politics make them uniquely qualified to lead such a historic institution.”

McCormack said in his own statement: “The New Republic was founded in 1914 as the organ of a modernized liberalism and then-dominant Progressive Movement, and has remained true to its founding principles, under all its multiple owners, ever since. We intend to continue in that same tradition, preserving the journal as an important voice in a new debate over how the basic principles of liberalism can be reworked to meet the equally demanding challenges of our era.”

Fish, 63, a well-connected environmental activist, documentary filmmaker and two-time unsuccessful House candidate from Upstate New York—widely known and liked in liberal Manhattan circles—is also a Harvard guy.

He’s the son and grandson of New York congressmen, and the great-great grandson of a storied New York governor, senator and U.S secretary of state who died at the close of the 19th century.

In other words, Ham Fish, as he’s known, is the fifth generation in a line of same-named men in which only the Roman numerals have changed.

Also, his forbears were staunch Republicans; reportedly, during one of his House races, his grandfather gave $100 to his Republican opponent, muttering that the grandson was a Commie.

“I can’t think of two better people of good, progressive values that are consistent with the mission of The New Republic in its best incarnation,” former Nation owner and editor Victor Navasky told The Daily Beast.

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In 1974, Navasky recruited Fish, then fresh out of Harvard, to raise money for former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark’s quixotic Senate campaign against New York incumbent Jacob Javits.

Three years later, Fish recruited Navasky—in the midst of finishing his book about the 1950s Naming Names—to run The Nation. 

“I wish them well, that’s for sure,” Navasky added.

The 32-year-old Hughes put TNR up for sale in January, complaining that he had burned through $20 million after four years of ownership that began with bright promise and ended in despair.

Hughes acknowledged that he couldn’t figure out “a sustainable business model” after attempting to transform the mag into a “vertically integrated digital media company,” a Silicon Valley confection that outraged dozens of brand-name writers who quit en masse when Hughes forced the resignations of longtime top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier.

Hughes was deeply rattled by the publicly embarrassing controversy, and was said to have soured on his adventure in media ownership.

McCormack and Fish were unavailable for comment, said a TNR spokesperson, who added that they “have only just arrived at the New Republic offices today. Their plan is to get acquainted with all of the staff and with the rhythms of the company before developing any long-term strategic decisions and will probably want to wait a little while before communicating formally with the press.”