Hamilton Fish, the black-sheep scion of a storied political dynasty, documentary filmmaker and progressive political activist, will take the reins of The New Republic as publisher and editorial director. The move comes as part of the latest shift in a dramatic series of upheavals at TNR, whose most recent owner, Chris Hughes, threw in the towel after four years. During that time, the weekly magazine of politics and culture saw wholesale staff defections and a mostly unrequited investment of $20 million from the Facebook co-founder to keep the troubled weekly afloat.
On Friday, Hughes announced the sale of TNR to Win McCormack, publisher of the literary journal Tin House, along with the appointment of Fish to oversee it. It’s not the first time Fish has ventured into the troubled waters of an endangered left-wing publication; in the 1970s and ’80s, he led a partnership that rescued The Nation, the country’s oldest liberal periodical, from insolvency and served as publisher of the weekly. Fish has most recently served as publisher of The Washington Spectator. Responding to an email request from Deadline, Fish said it’s too early to discuss plans for TNR because “I just got there and feel the need to get settled.”
In announcing the sale, however, McCormack stressed his intention to respect the legacy of a magazine that has been a voice of Democratic liberalism, mostly, since its founding in 1914. McCormack called TNR “an important voice in a new debate over how the basic principles of liberalism can be reworked to meet the equally demanding challenges of our era” — a comment that reads chillingly like every other statement from a moneyed entrepreneur hoping to rescue a print journal, especially of the left-wing ideological persuasion.
“[Ham] was a lot of fun to have as partner. I valued his intelligence and his fundraising ability, and together we did something that was important. He understood the history of The Nation.” — former Nation editor Victor Navasky
Which is why the appointment of Fish is so significant. Hamilton Fish V is the Harvard-educated son and grandson of Republican congressmen (Fish III called him a communist and supported the opposing candidate in a Westchester race).
“He was a lot of fun to have as partner,” Victor Navasky, a distinguished New York Times journalist who became The Nation‘s editor at Fish’s insistence. “I valued his intelligence and his fundraising ability, and together we did something that was important. He understood the history of The Nation.”
A committed progressive who has been described as “the shining light of dark legacy,” Ham Fish, as he is known, also has a long career as a documentary filmmaker and preservationist going back to 1975, when he befriended The Sorrow And The Pity filmmaker Marcel Ophuls.
Fish got Paramount Pictures and financier Max Palevsky to underwrite the completion of Ophuls’ monumental followup film The Memory Of Justice, which had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. Fish also was a producer of Ophuls’ third Holocaust documentary, Hotel Terminus: The Life And Times Of Klaus Barbie, which won the Oscar for feature documentary in 1989.
Fish’s other documentaries include Stealing The Fire (2002) and Food Chains (2014) as well as Hot Type, Barbara Kopple’s behind-the-scenes look at the cadre of journalists who put out The Nation each week.
Fish has also put intellect and sweat equity into the global watchdog Human Rights Watch, playing a key role in organizing the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.
No word yet on Fish’s plans regarding the Washington Spectator or the fate of current TNR editor Gabriel Snyder. The magazine has, even under duress, continued to publish provocative essays relevant to the political circus unfolding as the country heads to a presidential election. Latest example: “Bernie’s Complaint: The Reluctant Roots Of His Radicalism,” Joshua Cohen’s remarkable 5,700-word exploration of the sources of, and conflicts within, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics as he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.