Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the Founding Editor of Washington Monthly.

Charles Peters, founder and former editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly, was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ (ASME) Hall of Fame on May 2, 2001.

“Charlie Peters rewrote the rules for political coverage, and his influence is felt throughout American magazines,” said Cyndi Stivers, past president of ASME and editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journalism Review. “The only thing more impressive than the tough standards he has set for himself and his magazine is the list of writers and editors he has mentored.”

In the several decades since he launched the Washington Monthly, Charles Peters has epitomized the crusading, public-spirited editor envisioned by the nation’s founders as a bulwark of democracy. Working on a shoestring budget and minuscule salaries for himself and his skeletal staff, Peters created a small but extraordinarily influential political magazine that has changed the policy debate in Washington and spawned a generation of talented journalists such as Jonathan Alter, James Fallows, and Michael Kinsley, who now occupy top positions at most major newspapers and newsmagazines.

Rejecting the shibboleths of both left and right, Peters established a set of principles for his magazine–for instance, refusing to accept cigarette advertising–that he has stuck to at great cost to his bottom line. Every month, he combines seriousness of purpose in explaining the foibles of politics and government with a sense of fun and adventure in the reporting of public affairs. With few resources, Peters has consistently been months, even years, ahead of the mainstream press in covering stories of government and corporate abuse. And he insists on an analytical rigor and aversion to conventional and ideologically rigid thinking that has shaped the world view of countless political reporters, not to mention his astonishingly loyal readers.

Peters helped pioneer what is sometimes called “explanatory” journalism, which combines incisive reporting with pointed analysis. Because he worked in theater, advertising, law, politics and the federal government before coming to journalism, Peters brings a unique perspective to his “Tilting at Windmills” column and to every story he edits. His trademark blend of liberalism and conservatism–called “the gospel” by his many acolytes–and volcanic and eccentric editing sessions (called “raindances”)–have made him a legend in Washington, where he has worked behind the scenes to improve the system. But unlike many powerful editors, Peters never pulls punches or adopts trendy ideas. Instead, he routinely afflicts the powerful, rejects the fashionable and embodies the finest traditions of the small magazine press.

During his tenure as the Monthly‘s editor, Peters has accrued numerous journalistic and literary credits and awards of his own. In addition to Tilting at Windmills, he authored How Washington Really Works and co-authored Blowing the Whistle: Dissent in the Public InterestInside the System, and A New Road for America: The Neoliberal Movement. Peters has also written for The New York TimesThe New RepublicHarper’s Magazine and The Washington Post, among others. He has appeared on numerous TV shows, such as NBC’s “Today Show,” “Donahue,” “CBS This Morning,” “Ted Koppel’s Nightline,” and “Larry King Live.”

Most recently, Peters was the recipient of the first Richard M. Clurman Award for his work with young journalists. He also received the Columbia Journalism Award in 1978. Last November, Brill’s Content included Peters in its “Influence List 2000.”


Tilting at Windmills

No exit Imagine your reaction to being trapped in the backseat of a car having to listen to Ted Cruz quote from one speech of his after another. I suspect my own would be very similar to that of the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson: “I made a quick calculation as to how many vertebrae I… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

Fair-weather Democrats You probably read about the two Democratic state senators who lost recall elections in Colorado because they voted to strengthen gun laws in the state. What struck me in the New York Times account that I read is that 21,000 fewer voters turned out than had in 2010. That was the midterm election,… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

The Gilded City For many years, Washington was a city of modest lifestyles, largely determined by the civil service salary scale. That began to change in the 1970s with the growth of lobbying into a major local industry and the considerably higher compensation enjoyed by its practitioners. Then came the great increase in defense spending… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

More scrutiny, not less For the Internal Revenue Service and tax-exempt groups, the real scandal lies not with the few that have been over-investigated, but with the many that continue to function with too little scrutiny. As of 2012, there were 1,616,053 organizations in this country that were tax exempt—supposedly on the basis that, among… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

Large and in charge Attorney General Eric Holder recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee that some banks have become “so large” that it’s “difficult for us to prosecute them.” Wait a minute—I thought the Obama administration said that the big banks are not a problem. It certainly made no effort to break them up. But… Read more »