Commentary Publishes Letter on AJC Role in Magazine's Founding

Commentary Publishes Letter on AJC Role in Magazine's Founding

Commentary

March 2009

To the Editor:

I read John Podhoretz’s inaugural essay as editor of Commentary (“A Magazine and Its Mission,” February 2009) once, then a second time, and then a third time. I was searching – in vain, as it turned out – for any reference to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in his reflections on the history and mission of the magazine. That omission was, to say the least, regrettable.

Without AJC, Commentary would not have gotten off the ground nor, presumably, would it have had an institutional sponsor for six decades. Indeed, in citing the first “editorial statement” of the new magazine in November 1945, Mr. Podhoretz quotes extensively from its legendary first editor, Elliot E. Cohen. But he omits these words:

In this spirit, and with these aims, to publish the best magazine we know how to, hospitable to the broadest range of worthwhile opinion—this is the sole mandate the editors have from Commentary’s sponsor, the American Jewish Committee. Few projects have a charter so free, so generous-minded, so full of faith in the value of honest thinking and decent writing.

For 60 years, AJC tenaciously stood by that mandate, even when the magazine endorsed positions at odds with the organization’s and occasionally printed articles and essays that criticized it by name.

As the scholar Michael Novak wrote in 1985: “AJC – often at variance with [Norman Podhoretz’s] views – deserves immense credit for its jealous protection of his editorial independence.” Twelve years later, addressing the relationship between AJC and Commentary, Harvard professor Ruth Wisse added: “The guarantee of independence was honored to a degree unprecedented in the annals of magazine publishing by activist organizations.”

AJC and Commentary, at the latter’s request, had an amicable separation in 2006. The magazine felt it was in its own best interests to pursue an independent path. AJC acceded to this desire. Let’s hope there will be opportunities down the road to correct the omission and recognize AJC’s unique role in the history of such a consequential magazine.

David A. Harris, Executive Director

American Jewish Committee

New York City

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