Farewell to ‘The Public Interest’

By David Skinner
From The Weekly Standard

What everyone who’s worked at The Public Interest talks about is what a privilege it was to hang around Irving Kristol. The job amounted to a kind of graduate school in life as a public intellectual. Irving would recommend books and offer career advice, often unsolicited and almost invariably sound. (“You want to go to law school? Why? Do you want to be a lawyer? No? Then don’t go to law school.”) The unpartitioned one-room office—which former executive editor Ben Wildavsky, now education editor of U.S. News and World Report, suggests was set up to look like the Commentary offices circa 1952 (the last year Kristol worked there)–allowed the young editors to eavesdrop on Irving’s phone calls and talk with him about any number of issues. One former editor remembers the days when Irving would dictate letters to his longtime assistant Rita Lazzaro, which allowed the younger assistants to listen in as he debated various correspondents by mail. One of the big lessons offered was in “how to behave,” says Wildavsky. I myself carry around in my head a sort of Irving Kristol tutorial on the proper conduct of an editor, whose main lessons are how to be modest without being meek, frank without being vulgar, and direct without being hostile—standards I’ve fallen short of only about a thousand times. [more]