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 32 years 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

Although the Homeland Security Agency was less than immaculate in its conception–indeed, its announcement seems to have been driven by the desire to keep Coleen Rowley’s testimony that afternoon from dominating the front pages the next morning–it nevertheless strikes me as, on the whole, a good idea. It may have been hastily put together by… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

By the way, the “quiet car” on Amtrak’s Acela Express is a myth. I’ve been teaching at Columbia this spring and have returned to Washington on that train several times. The 5 p.m. Acela in particular has been so crowded that the quiet car has been taken over by cell phone users. But here’s a… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

The relationship ended. “He’s a wonderful guy, but when reality set in I realized that our goals and ambitions were too different. He had a lifestyle on completely the opposite end of the spectrum of anything I’ve ever had.” Did you read about the Pen-tagon civil servant who used her government credit card for $12,000-worth… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

The population of Los Ange-les County is 10 million, more than that of 42 states. Its county supervisors are “among the most powerful public officials in America,” according to Governing magazine. Yet almost no one in the rest of the country knows who they are. Indeed, that ignorance is shared by a good many residents… Read more »

Tilting At Windmills

A test of their good faith now confronts Republican congressional leaders. Will they repeal, as they promised Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) they would, the three special-interest provisions that mysteriously crept into the homeland security bill at the last minute? One of the provisions exempts Eli Lilly from lawsuits arising from a… Read more »