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

How did Kyle “Dusty” Foggo–who recently left the CIA under a cloud of suspicion about his relationship with his pal Brent Wilkes, a featured player in the bribery indictment of former Congressman Duke Cunningham–impress Porter Goss enough to get himself made number three at the intelligence agency? According to The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, who… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

Why do the bills from the Pentagon for Halliburton’s subsidiary, KBR, always seem on the high side? In the case of the company’s contract to restore oil services in Iraq, the explanation is not difficult to understand. Under the terms of the contract, writes Griff Witte of The Washington Post, “KBR earns its profit as… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

It now develops that reports of major flooding from Homeland Security personnel in New Orleans were ignored by the department’s Washington headquarters because the people staffing it were watching television: “In the French Quarter on television, they were dancing and drinking beer and seemed to be having a party,” Gen. Matthew Broderick, then the director… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

When I wrote last month about the explosion of lobbyists during the 1970s, I wish I had known a statistic that subsequently appeared in Washingtonian magazine. In just the three years between 1972-1975, the number of the capitol’s lawyers doubled. In the 30 years since, the number has doubled twice more, but never has the… Read more »

Tilting at Windmills

You will recall that Lawrence Lindsay, President George W. Bush’s first chief economic advisor, was reprimanded and ultimately fired for daring to suggest that the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion. The latest estimate of the actual cost–from no less an authority than the Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz: $2 trillion. Some friends… Read more »