Among the many post-mortems on Tina Brown's Talk magazine, those by The Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger and The New Republic's Andrew Sullivan have been the most insightful. These conservatives have correctly made the connection between the demise of Talk and a major sea change in American culture, especially the shift brought on by the terrorist bombings of 9-11. Ironically, the talented Brown also points to 9-11, but she sees it as a recession-inducing event that caused advertising revenues to crash and the magazine to shut down.
But actually, 9-11 marked a cultural watershed, not an economic one. Although a case can be made that there has been a gradual return to more traditional and virtuous cultural values over the past several years, certainly a new spirit of patriotism and faith arrived in response to the terrorist war against the United States.
Just take a quick inventory: American-flag lapel pins by the thousands; heart-felt renditions of "God Bless America" at sporting events; a measurable increase in the appreciation of friends, family members and co-workers; people more seriously undertaking their daily responsibilities; a greater attraction to the miraculous heritage of the Founding Fathers; once self-full Americans now giving to charities and volunteering for community service. With these have come the duty of courage and the understanding of the clear differences between right and wrong, and between good and evil. Moral relativism is out the door.
There can be no doubt that American culture has changed since 9-11. Predominantly, it is a change for the better.
Although Tina Brown doesn't let on about it in public, perhaps she privately understands that the Talk magazine venture was the completely wrong bet in a changing American culture. Certainly, she'd have to know if she reads The New York Times Book Review each Sunday.
One of the best ways to examine the culture is to review what folks are reading. Looking at the current top-10 New York Times best-selling books, it's clear that readers have abandoned the celebrity glitz, the glitterati, the sordid tales of sexual adventures and infidelities, the see-through dresses and the semi-nude photographs that characterized Brown's editorial style. Instead, people are now reading conservative authors on conservative subjects with conservative themes.
No. 1 on the Times nonfiction list for this weekend is Bernard Goldberg's "Bias," a scathing indictment of the rampant liberalism of Dan Rather's CBS news. No. 3 is "The Final Days," written by the beloved Barbara Olson, who died tragically in a hijacked plane on 9-11 and who was a constant conservative critic of the Clinton administration. No. 5 is lifelong conservative Pat Buchanan's "Death of the West," in part a worry about the immigration threat to American culture. No. 6 is a memoir by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, a pro-business businessman and Republican backer of George W. Bush.
Even most of the top-selling "non-conservative" books on the Times list are culturally in tune, which is to say culturally conservative. One is a photographic essay of the 9-11 events from Life magazine. Another is a photographic documentary of the heroics of the New York City Fire Department in the aftermath of 9-11. Then there's Edmund Morris' biography of Teddy Roosevelt -- a darn sight better than his biography of Ronald Reagan -- that tells the tale of a Republican president at the turn of the last century who believed strongly in the virtues of public service and traditional family values. And the David McCullough biography of President John Adams -- 35 weeks on the top-10 list -- is primarily concerned with the themes of a Founder imbued with the mission of honesty, close family relations and dedicated service to his fledgling country.
These are serious themes, and book-reading is for serious people -- many of whom won't miss Talk precisely because it didn't rise to their new level of seriousness, their new cultural conservatism.
In a sense, President George W. Bush helped stimulate this transformation toward conservative values during his presidential campaign in 2000, when he frequently spoke about his own spiritual transformation. His inaugural references to faith, family, God and the sanctity of life were spoken from his heart. But a year ago, President Bush presided over the heartland red states of a politically divided nation. The cultural elites mocked him.
Today, however, he is both president and commander in chief of a unified country at war. His beliefs have become a kind of conservative cultural baseline against which the country measures events and lifestyles, as well as its literary and entertainment tastes.
Tina Brown didn't bank on this conservative shift. Her magazine never got the new culture right. She tried to pour old wine into a new bottle, but no one was buying. Talk was a non-best-seller, unread by a culturally conservative America.