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Have you got what it takes to write for the Washington Monthly?

Writers for The Washington Monthly sometimes complain that we're a little too, shall we say, uninhibited, about urging our point of view upon them-and their manuscripts. In 1979, Arthur Levine mocked the Monthly's editing style

"How can I become a Washington Monthly writer? I can't write for beans, I'm dull as dishwater, l hate researching, and I don't have any strongly held political opinions. Could I get published in your magazine?"

Welcome aboard! Our top-notch editors will be glad to add an introduction, a conclusion, and loads of thought-provoking opinions without troubling you with the dreary task of doing it yourself. Many contented writers have said that there's no surprise quite like seeing a manuscript of theirs end up as an article in The Washington Monthly. Often they find themselves espousing ideas they've never even heard of, let alone agree with.

Let's take the underlying approach. The magazine bills itself as "the liberal magazine that challenges liberal orthodoxy." In other words, we are practically indistinguishable from National Review, except that our readership is made up of average, white, educated liberals. All articles should be written with this reader in mind: He's just come home from work, he's tired, and he's wading through a pile of liberal magazines. You only have a brief moment to catch his attention. What to do?

Challenge his assumptions! That's right, kick him in the shins. Take whatever he holds dear and tell him that he's wrong.

Your best bet is to stick to widely held assumptions. Let's take Nazi Germany. Your readers probably think the Nazi regime was the most evil in world history. At the Monthly, we say, "Hey, not so fast! Let's take another look." Here's a sample of the way some top Washington Monthly writers might approach this all-important issue:

"Busting Our Mental Blocks on Hitler"-Contributing editor Tom Bethel) argues that the sins of Adolf Hitler have been wildly exaggerated by the liberal media over the years, especially by The New York Times and The Washington Post. Highlights of the piece include his witty, scathing attacks on Anne Frank and Eli Weisel. He ends with a ringing denunciation of government bureaucracy.

"How Many Jews Did You Kill in the War, Daddy?"-In this sensitive first-person account, James Fallows apologizes for causing World War II. He explains how a Harvard-educated elite and the American class system helped Hitler in his rise to power and led to the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

"What Liberals Can Learn From the Krupp Family"-Editor Charles Peters hails the entrepreneurial spirit of Germany's leading munitions makers. In the face of government paperwork and the seductions of play-it-safe manufacturing, this plucky family nonetheless invented new bombs to aid their country in its time of need. Peters gives the family high marks for altruism and patriotism, qualities he finds sorely lacking in today's society He ends with a ringing denunciation of government bureaucracy.

People always say, "How do you folks at the Monthly keep coming up with those new story ideas all the time?" What these people don't know is that we don't really come up with new ideas, but different ways to say the same thing over and over again.

Well, I've given you everything you need. Now it's up to you. Are you willing to take the risk? If not, that may be because our society hasn't provided the kind of support-in our political system, our schools, and in our culture-that's necessary to encourage that sort of risk-taking. We've gone from a nation of vigorous entrepreneurs to a nation of timid bureaucrats, each obsessed with preserving his security in the miasma of special-interest politics. Ultimately, the real irony may be that the values that made this country great blah blah blah. . . .What we need, in these times, is a rebirth. . . .etc. etc.

(Note to editor: Can't think of an ending, I know you'll come up with something.)

Arthur Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, is an associate editor of U.S. News & World Report.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:The Culture of Institutions
Author:Levine, Arthur
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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