Hacking the New Yorker
by Michael Brenner on 24 May 2021 0 Comment

The pandemic and lock-down have produced some deeply moving personal stories of trial and tribulation. I heard one especially harrowing tale from an acquaintance who found himself marooned in a mid-Manhattan office for 67 days. He and his not-insignificant other are staffers at the NEW YORKER. They were confined when Editor David Remnick, in a panic as he rushed to catch the 3:10 to East Hampton, ordered all the doors locked and sealed at the very moment they were in the backroom trying to get a balky copier to work. 


They spent the first 32 days laughing their way through every cartoon published in the magazine since 1925, interspersed by Andrew Cuomo’s grim updates each morning. That routine began to lose its charm, though. So, on day 33 they took the drastic step of breaking into David Remnick’s personal files. To their surprise, and good luck, they were found just nestled in a hard copy folder lying in the bottom of the lower left-hand drawer next to the editor’s store of pre-signed rejection slips.


Most fascinating were the handwritten notes to would-be contributors. Here’s a sampling.



My Dear Barack


I am most appreciative of the autographed copy of your Memoir that you sent. I shall cherish it. The book is an extraordinary achievement – unique among Presidential autobiographies. Its candid, full of insights and the graceful literary style place it head-and-shoulders above its predecessors. If it reminds me of anything comparable, it is Churchill’s set of volumes on WW II. That won him a Nobel Prize in Literature. How awesome if you were to add that award to your Nobel Peace prize! Only the second ‘double’ in Nobel Prize history! Admittedly, some on the panel might see that as premature.


One can imagine a dour Swedish pedant steeped in impenetrable French novels or Norse poetry rejecting prose work in principle. “Good, very good – not immortal” he might sniffily pronounce.  The second volume of your Memoirs could overcome that skepticism. So, I urge you to press on, and to ignore those suggesting you model yourself on Cincinnatus or those Daoist Chinese statesmen who believed that virtue dictated that success in the world be followed by a contemplative retirement. You’re certainly not a navel gazer. I understand that some confidant has proposed the title: Standing My Common Ground. Something with a bit more punch could resonate more strongly; how about Warrior For Peace?


When I published my biography of your pre-Presidential life back in 2009, I had the sense that the life that I was recounting was a foreshadow of bigger things to come. I am immensely gratified that it has proven to be true.


I, for one, certainly stand ready to sign on to any petition recommending your nomination for the NOBEL.


I do hope that we might renew acquaintance at the ground-breaking ceremony for your Presidential library in Chicago.


Sincerest best regards




Dear Sy (Hersh)


Great to hear from you and see that you still have the ‘right stuff.”


Fantastic piece!  This time, though, I’m afraid that I have to demur. As you likely anticipated, it crosses a line. We can’t go there.


Drop by for a drink the next time you’re in the vicinity.


All best,


P.S. have you thought of trying the LRB – or even the Germans. Their lines are a little blurrier




Dear Chris (Hedges)


Great to hear from you and see that you still have the ‘right stuff.”


Fantastic piece! I’m afraid that I have to demur, thought. It really not only does cross the line, it eradicates it. We can’t go there.


If we run into each other, perhaps we might have a drink. 



P.S. Have you thought of trying one of those Websites where the true believers hang out?




Dear Ralph (NADER)


Great to hear from you and see that you still have the “right stuff.”


Good piece – as candid as ever! I’m afraid that it’s not for us, though. As I expect you anticipated, it ignores all the lines. We can’t go there.


Don’t forget to wave if our paths cross in the Madison Ave Starbucks. 



P.S. Good luck if you’re thinking of running for president again now that they’ve lifted the age cap



Dear Alexandria (Ocasio-Cortez) 


Great to hear from you and see that you have the “right stuff” – as I always suspected.  Thanks for thinking of the NEW YORKER. 


Good piece - as stimulating as ever! I’m afraid that it’s not for us, though. As you might have anticipated, it crosses one of our red lines: the one that runs down the middle of the East River. We just don’t have many readers in Astoria and the South Bronx. 


By the way, you may be interested in an upcoming piece that probes into the question of whether the U.S.’ conduct of simultaneous Cold Wars with Russia and China should be chalked up as a triumph for Diversity. 


Best to Nancy. 




Dear Kamala 



How generous of you to single out the NEW YORKER as the vehicle for presenting to the country this first, authoritative outline of the Biden administration’s grand strategy for keeping America Number One through the 21st Century. Thinking outside the box has always been your forte - as, too, the aspiration to be at the top. 


I am especially taken by your perceptiveness in seeing our greatest strength as a nation in our unmatched capacity for invention and innovation. You’ve really hit the nail on the head in underscoring how the software of American democracy is crucial to our soft power in the wider world. Bravo for the insight in citing as the three key examples: the Workshop, the Retreat & the Task Force – the foundation pillars of “American Exceptionalism.” 


Yours most sincerely, 



P.S. Still in touch with Willie Brown – and Blanche? 


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