So much has changed since 2001, some good but a lot of it not. There was 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the election of our first Black president, and our first orange one. We’ve endured a financial crisis, a pandemic, two impeachments, and a searing assault on the Capitol.
But during the tumult, there’s been only one editor of the Washington Monthly.
For two decades, Paul Glastris has not only led the Washington Monthly. He’s saved it. In 2001, as he was readying to leave Bill Clinton’s White House, where he was a speechwriter, Glastris had the array of options that greet those leaving such a prestigious post. Paul could have found a lucrative corporate sinecure. An acclaimed journalist, he had reported from Berlin, Chicago, and the Balkans during its 90s bloodbath. He could have ambled back to the world of well-paying magazines. (Yes, kids, those existed in 2001.)
Instead, Glastris chose to return to the magazine he’d worked for years earlier. The Washington Monthly, the plucky but venerable magazine located in, shall we say, less than glamorous offices over a liquor store near Washington’s Dupont Circle where the heat was less than reliable, was coming to the end of an era. Charles Peters, for whom Paul and I worked for in the 1980s, had founded the magazine in 1969, was approaching 80 himself and ready to release the reins.
Glastris took a risk. With two small children and no family fortune, almost a requirement for small magazine owners, he cobbled together funding for the Monthly. He did not take a salary the first year, relying on side gigs and the modest earnings of his late wife and later Monthly book editor, Kukula. Most importantly, Glastris, on Peters’ advice, made the Monthly a non-profit. When told of this development, Warren Buffett, the famed investor and an early backer of the Monthly, quipped: “It’s always been a non-profit.”
The change in tax status was more than an accounting shift. It allowed the Monthly to garner support from philanthropists like Markos Kounalakis and foundations too numerous to mention here that, through their generosity, fueled the Monthly’s groundbreaking work on education, health care, anti-monopolism, corporate accountability, and other aspects of American life sorely in need of more scrutiny. Among Glastris’s innovations was an annual college guide that disrupted the old test-scores-and-admission-rates rankings with an entirely new way of looking at post-secondary education based on what’s good for non-wealthy students and the country.
While the Monthly had evolved under Paul, it has hewed to its mission of standing up for the average person and explaining government in ways that can make conservatives, and sometimes liberals, uncomfortable. But it has always done so with the belief that Washington can do good—something Glastris and Peters knew from their time in government. Peters, one of the founders of the Peace Corps, famously mentored unknown writers who became renowned, including James Fallows, Jon Meacham, Michael Kinsley, Nicholas Lemann, and Michelle Cottle. Glastris helped launch future luminaries like Joshua Green, Nick Confessore, Anne Kim, and Haley Sweetland Edwards. Working for the Monthly has never been lucrative, but it’s always been a springboard.
As someone who’s known Glastris for decades, I can tell you how little the man has changed. We first met when I was a college senior looking for a job and he spent part of his honeymoon (!) reading my clips. When we worked together at the Monthly in the 80s, his steely logic and iron bladder saved many an article we’d written off as doomed. I’m most grateful that he used his film school education and steady hand for the dubious honor of holding the then oversized video camera at my son’s bris. In all that time, he’s been impossibly kind, breathtakingly smart, and an incessant champion of his Greek heritage. Paul has also been a champion of the kind of journalism we need—richly reported, persuasive, aimed at convincing a reader and not, like so many news feeds and cable lineups, reinforcing their biases. I’m proud to call him boss and friend.
If you think the Monthly’s brand of policy-focused journalism is important, if you want to celebrate Paul’s two decades at the magazine’s helm, there’s something you can do: make a donation. In fact, do it right now.
As a nonprofit, we cannot do the work we do without your support. And as a celebration of Paul Glastris, I couldn’t think of a better gift. As a token of our gratitude, if you give $50 or more, you’ll receive a free one-year subscription to the print edition of the Washington Monthly. Donate today.