home > archive > 2003 > this article
World class Spectator: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
By Bernard Chapin
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., is Chairman of the Board for the American Alternative Foundation which is the publisher of the famous and feared, The American Spectator (TAS). The foundation members themselves are quite impressive and include Jeanne Kirkpatrick within their ranks. Mr. Tyrrell is the magazine's founder and is currently its Editor in Chief. It was first called, The Alternative, when the magazine began in 1967. Mr. Tyrrell has accomplished much since that time and his curriculum vitae includes several awards that are beyond what many of the people that he writes about have received.
The first thing that comes to mind when perusing his work is just how prolific a writer he is. In contradiction to what has been asserted in David Brock's controversial memoirs, Mr. Tyrrell has to be on the short list of candidates for the title, "Hardest Working Man in Conservative America." He can be found in a variety of publications, even in the leftover left pages of The New York Review of Books.
The easiest place to find his work is at The American Prowler web site where his online columns appear under the heading "The Current Crisis." This is slightly different from the name his columns in print appear by which are called "The Continuing Crisis." He has also written a multitude of books such as The Liberal Crack-Up, Public Nuisances, Boy Clinton: The Political Biography, and The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton: A Political Docu-Drama. Tyrrell's style is quite irreverent and to corrupt the words of Rush Limbaugh, his "wit is on loan from God." He is also quite direct with his assessments of the political life: "Notwithstanding the dinner jackets and sleek evening gowns, the White House Correspondents' dinner is always boisterous, sweat sodden, and very stupid."
Lastly, those of us who write would do well to think of Mr. Tyrrell's history before complaining about criticism directed toward us so as through his history we can appreciate how vicious many of the media battles actually are. In the past few years he's been excoriated in the pages of Salon, had the IRS launched against him and had his name and magazine dragged through acid during the Theodore Olson confirmation hearings. As if that was not bad enough, I even found a diatribe independently posted on the internet making fun of his name, the fact that he plays handball and that he supposedly requires employees to be well-dressed. The one consolation for him must have been that not one thing in the attack was humorous in the least. Yes, compared to his life, ours may well be a "non-existent crisis." So let us meet another major player in the world of conservatism in this enterstageright.com exclusive interview.
BC: The American Spectator is back! At least that's what it says on your web site. You also have clearly stated there that one of your purposes is to challenge political correctness which I think is the noblest of goals. My question is that with all the conservative magazines and print in circulation, do you think you'll be successful this time around? What sets you apart from your numerous competitors?
RET: The American Spectator is indeed back. Brushing off the shrapnel from our escapade with the Clintons' idea of democratic politics or public service -- that is to say from exhilarating calls before government grand juries and inquiries. We re-refitting and bringing aboard the old gang of ruffians to defend the free society. Such great figures as Bob Bartley from the Wall Street Journal and my publisher at Regnery Publishing Al Regnery (who has left Regnery to become The American Spectator's new publisher) are going to advance the conservative agenda of free markets, free peoples, and laughter at all the dullards that afflict free Americans. Our niche, you ask? It is among those who revel in the blood sport of politics and the longing for high culture among the philistine liberals. Beethoven never hurt anybody nor did the literate. We do build on our history of defending the rule of law during the Clintons' years of lawlessness, defending the West during the years of Communist menace, and defending free society every time a majority of humanitarian liberals enter the room or get too close to the Unites States Treasury. Today, as in the past, we see no reason not to laugh at those who menace freedom, culture and a good cigar.
BC: You are one of the only magazines that I know of which runs a separate web site with an independent name. Indeed, The American Prowler may be unknown to some of our readers who are familiar with The American Spectator. Why did you set it up apart from your flagship and how is the site doing traffic wise?
RET: The American Prowler is doing very well, a million hits a month. It was founded to keep our kind of amused writers and readers together while George Gilder and I sorted out the new direction of the The American Spectator.
Now that we have the "new magazine back under old management" we have reunited the Spectator Online with the American Prowler [note, now the prowler comes up when one types "spectator.org" and the magazine comes up at "tas.spectator.org"]. That process took time as such things have to be done with delicacy. I would add that the Spectator itself is being vigorously refitted with the best of the conservative libertarian movement so watch for our new layout in the next few months.
BC: You and your magazine will forever be associated with the name "William Jefferson Clinton." I believe that your book, Boy Clinton, had on its cover one of the best photos of the former President/Entertainer that I've ever seen. In it he pensively sizes the camera up- possibly determining whether he should smile at it or pilfer it. Well, as he might say, that "photo's from so long ago." What does the future hold without him? Perhaps he is wondering how you'll cope with the loss.
RET: The loss of Clinton? Consider this: history is the Spectator's theater of operations. We are the only intellectual review that ever played a part in the impeachment of a rogue president. We knew we were playing that role at the time, but we are aware that we were only participants in that curious movement that is history. I see history as a ceaseless flow of motion across the globe. The motion moves in currents that come and go they usher in new figures and new events, new desiderata and new persona. Now the currents have blown in an enormous struggle for the West against terror. That is an exhilarating challenge, not as amusing as Boy Clinton but very challenging.
The Clintons will be waging war for decades to defend themselves even as Alger Hiss fought for decades to defend himself. That rearguard action by the Clintons is doomed, for at the Spectator we shall remain an arsenal of fact against the Clintons' deceits-watch for Plesczcynski's review of Brock's book in the next magazine. Yet we are even more ardent to fight the battles of the future against statism and more exigently against terrorism and Islamic radicalism.
BC: I've noticed that some fresh new bylines have been appearing on The American Prowler. Are you scouting new talent for the revitalized TAS?
RET: Frankly the kind of sophisticated intelligentsia that we champion is always in the minority. You cannot for now get much better than our masthead. But there are some rising reporters. My colleague at the New York Sun Adam Dafallah is one and Sam Dealy is another and we shall be unveiling more young ruffians in the months ahead.
BC: What about your past publisher, George Gilder? Will we still be hearing from him and about the various technological miracles that await us?
RET: George Gilder as always is years ahead of everyone else. His writing on technology and economics will be important for years, and you will find him in our pages.
BC: Who are your favorite journalists? What names do you wake up and want to read first? Does this media critic have any favorite media outlets?
RET: As I write in the current issue, my favorite journalists have been Malcolm Muggeridge and Luigi Barzini, both now quite dead. Tome Wolfe, who is bubbling with life, is another though now he is a novelist and a very good one with a new book coming out on the university as it is today. As for daily columnists whom I admire I would mention the Washington Times' Wes Pruden and Tony Blankly, the Wall Street Journal's Bob Bartley, and Spectator's Mark Steyn. I admire Charles Krauthammer and much of the time George Will -- though he is a mystery. I have never understood why he is not more of a figure than he is, probably because he does not write on a wider range of issues. He got his start in journalism at The American Spectator and has always been reluctant to admit it. Why, I cannot say but I admire his work.
BC: Which writers have most shaped your work? Are there any particular authors or schools of thought that have had the greatest impact on you?
RET: Well, you must know by now that modern writers are almost all too vain to admit that any living writer ever influenced them. Books by Michael Oakshott and Milton Friedman influenced me and the very great and apparently forgotten Edward Banfield did too. As for writers though I am as vain as the next writer I will admit Bill Buckley, Muggeridge, Barzini and Mencken cast a spell on me for a while and Irving Kristol -- though I do not want to embarrass him. He even impressed me with his prose. I wish he had written some serious books.
BC: Have conservatives lost the culture war? Are there still things we can do to halt the long march of the radicals who have trodden over and laid waste to many of the most sacred aspects of our society? I ask everyone that question and I'd like to know what your opinion is.
RET: Years ago Milton Friedman and others recognized that we had in intellectual terms won the battle for the free society, but the liberal intelligentsia did not play fair. They did not accept that the evidence was on our side, the side of the libertarian conservatives. Then Milton said we shall have to wait a generation to become preponderant in the culture. He was as he so often has been thunderously right. We are not "over the hump," but when the dominant polluters of the Kultursmog die we shall have won. By then there will be now problems presented to society. Whether libertarian conservatism is still relevant God knows -- and I do have a high regard for God.
BC: Do you have a favorite politician? There's always so much to criticize we sometimes forget to celebrate.
RET: Bob Barr has decided not to run for Congress. He has been superb. In the Senate one of the greatest of freedom's defenders is Jeff Sessions.
BC: What title do you describe yourself by? Editor? Chairman? Writer? Humorist?
RET: In he end I should add what my colleague the editor and founder of the New York Sun has said that I am probably the most investigated editor and writer in America. I have come off all these trials as clean as a hound's tooth. In the months ahead as the The American Spectator growls again I think readers will discover that I remain a very hungry hound, and I am again in the hunt.
BC: Let the bugle sound! Thank you for your time, Mr. Tyrrell.
Bernard Chapin is a school psychologist and adjunct faculty member in Chicago.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2023, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.