Last week, Cockburn was the first to break the news that billionaire Phil Anschutz, owner of MediaDC, was about to euthanize The Weekly Standard. Earlier this week, Cockburn heard that Ryan McKibben, CEO of Clarity Media Group, the holding company that owns The Weekly Standard and its office-sharer and inheritor the Washington Examiner, was coming to Washington in order to fire the entire staff with the kind of personal touch that Standard insiders say has been sorely lacking in McKibben’s managerial style.
By midweek, Standard staff found themselves locked out of their own server archive. So on Thursday night, Cockburn hid in the one room at The Weekly Standard’s offices where no one ever goes: Steve Hayes’s office. Hayes is supposed to be the editor, but he’s been living in Spain for months.
Friday morning, Hayes made a rare and final visit to the Standard’s offices. McKibben fired him first, because Hayes’s contract meant that no one else could be fired without his approval. At noon, McKibben and a pair of MediaDC minions culled the entire Standard staff in a single stroke of the axe. Now that’s what Cockburn calls editing.
MediaDC is assisting the Standard’s suicide in order to gift its subscriber base to the Washington Examiner, which will launch as a weekly print national in January.
‘We’re not taking questions,’ McKibben snapped when asked what would happen to current subscribers, ‘but I’ll answer that. The narrative that’s been floating around is wrong. This was a financial decision. We’re business people. We looked at the trends, we didn’t see a way out.’
McKibben reminded Standard staffers that the magazine has seen ‘consistent revenue decline’, despite Bill Kristol’s one-man Never Trump campaign and perpetual CNN and Twitter routines: ‘We’ve lost half our subscribers in the over the last five years.’
Business logic also means silencing the Standard, rather than selling it off to a new patron who might reboot it as competition to the Washington Examiner. ‘We’ve reached the difficult decision that we’re going to discontinue The Weekly Standard and close the office and operations today,’ McKibben said, before insisting that the closing of one MediaDC magazine and the expansion of another via its subscriber base were ‘totally independent decisions’.
McKibben left the dirty work to Bob Manzi, CFO of Clarity Media Group, the holding company that owns MediaDC.
‘We’re going to try to make this as smooth as possible. We’ll continue full salary and benefits to the end of the year,’ Manzi said generously, with just over two weeks of the year to go.
The severance packages, Manzi explained, came with ‘standard non-releases’ and ‘non-disparagement’ clauses.
‘I know it’s an emotional day,’ Manzi warned, ‘so I want to tell you: Don’t get on social media and attack anybody, because it will put your severance in jeopardy. I want everyone to know that.’
What about the website, a staffer asked?
‘The website is closed,’ McKibben said.
‘That’s it. I’m not going to take questions. This isn’t a press conference!,’ said McKibben to the roomful of journalists.
MediaDC were in such a hurry to kill off the 23-year-old magazine that it gave staff until 5pm to clear their desks and turn in their keys. If they needed to come back on Saturday, they’d have to ask permission from Manzi’s colleague.
‘We’re writers,’ someone protested. ‘We have a lot of books, so the timeline seems unreasonable for a lot of us. I didn’t even know if I had a job two and half hours ago. It’s short notice.’
‘What about boxes?’ said another.
And then it emerged that the lobby of the building was locked on Saturdays anyway.
As shellshocked Standard employees staggered back to their cubicles and broke out the booze, Cockburn climbed into the large garbage can where Standard writers recycled their paper, and was wheeled off the premises by a janitor.
‘Everybody’s drinking,’ a Standard employee told Cockburn later in the afternoon. ‘There’s a bunch of alcohol bottles lying around.’
The party continues tonight at Andrew Ferguson’s home. Cockburn will be there, disguised as a barman. Ryan McKibben is believed to have prior commitments.