Last summer, while I was contemplating the coming Supreme Court term, it occurred to me that there is a story in how the Court, and, indeed, the very idea of courts in general, was transformed during the Trump years. It would explain why the Court is the way it is.
I spent the month of August writing that story. It was 30,000 words long, about one-third the length of a popular novel. Reader, it was a masterpiece—comprehensive, judicious, brilliantly argued, and, I modestly say, not entirely devoid of wit. I proudly handed it in to our editor in chief, Paul Glastris, and waited for his praise.
The next day he sent it back. “This is great,” he said. “Rewrite it.”
So I did. Weeks later, I turned in the second version. It was, well, even better than the first. I was glad for the edit because it made the piece all but perfect.
“Better,” Paul said the next day. “Write it again.”
So I rewrote it again. And only toward the end of the third rewrite did I realize what the piece was really about, which of my lovingly assembled facts mattered and which were irrelevant, and what the relevant facts actually proved.
The result was my cover story in the November/December issue, “The Supreme Court’s Third Great Crisis.”
I don’t know if it is any good, but I do know that it wasn’t until I got my print copy in the mail that I stopped worrying that Paul would make me rewrite it once again.
This back-and-forth is a classic Washington Monthly tale. Paul’s intransigence is in the great tradition of Charlie Peters, our founding editor, who remains a legend among journalists—both those who got their start at the Monthly and those who did not.
Charlie was a terror. He would not let go of copy until it was ready, and it took more work to get it ready than a lot of writers understood.
I learned a lot from Charlie when I was young. I have never gotten editing like this anywhere else. Train up a child in the way he should go, the Book of Proverbs says, and when he is old he will not depart from it. I am old, and I am still gratefully rewriting.
The point of this story is that if I hadn’t done that final rewrite, the story, even if the Monthly had printed it, would not be the story I needed to tell. Not only would the readers not know what I know, I wouldn’t know it either.
In the era of instant web posts, clickbait, deep dives, cross-posting, and hot takes, Monthly-style journalism is uncommon. Forty years ago, in The Washington Post, I wrote that the Washington Monthly carries on a tradition that stretches back to Addison and Steele, Dr. Johnson, and the Rambler. Magazines developed as the place where thoughtful writers wrote thoughtful pieces.
I hope you will help us keep this tradition going. We can keep the Monthly as a place where young writers and editors, under editorial whip and lash, can learn a dimension of the craft they might not be exposed to anywhere else. We can provide news and comments that readers might not get anywhere else. We can inform, we can educate, we can reach.
With your help, we will keep this small but irreplaceable institution going. Please make a year-end donation to the Washington Monthly now. It goes to a good cause.
Okay, I am going to turn this in.