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MICHAEL KINSLEY Printer Friendly Page

Michael Kinsley's True Dilemma of Embryonic Stem Research
By Nathanael Blake
July 14, 2006


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  • Former Editorial, Op-Ed and Letters Pages Editor of the Los Angeles Times
  • Was Editor of left-liberal magazine The New Republic
  • Was Managing Editor of the neo-liberal Washington Monthly Magazine
  • Was Editor of Harper’s Magazine
  • Was co-host of Crossfire on CNN
  • Was founding Editor of Microsoft liberal webzine Slate

Michael Kinsley is best known as the former co-host of the CNN program Crossfire, and as the former Editorial and Opinion Editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Kinsley was born in March 1951 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of a surgeon father and a homemaker mother. He attended Harvard University, working there as an editor at its student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, and graduated in 1972. He then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

In 1976 Kinsley was back in the U.S. to attend Harvard Law School. One of his professors, Martin Peretz, had purchased the left-liberal magazine The New Republic two years earlier and in 1976 offered to make Kinsley its Managing Editor. Kinsley accepted and moved to Washington, DC, where the magazine was located. (He graduated with a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1977.) 

In 1978, after resigning because of a spat with Peretz, Kinsley was rehired at higher pay as the magazine's Editor. For the next twelve years, Kinsley and Hendrik Hertzberg (now the editorial director of The New Yorker) alternately worked three-to-four-year stints as Editors of The New Republic.

"Peretz was a 1960s liberal who'd become disillusioned with the policies and the ethos of that era and moved rightward," wrote Richard Blow in the neo-liberal Washington Monthly. "Michael Kinsley was a brilliant Harvard graduate with ... an eagle's eye for hypocrisy. Then something of an outsider in the capital, the nerdy, endearingly awkward Kinsley made the deftly executed hatchet job the magazine's hallmark. At the time, the combination of ideological flexibility and merciless butchery of Washington's sacred cows worked."

In 1981 Kinsley was hired as the Editor of Harper's magazine and moved to New York City. He lasted 20 months during a struggle within the Board of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which owned Harper's, over who would control the publication. The winner of this struggle, Rick MacArthur, ousted Kinsley on the pretext that the latter had accepted a junket to Israel. MacArthur then restored the more conventional leftist Lewis Lapham as the magazine's editor.

In 1983 Kinsley returned to Washington, DC to write The New Republic's column "TRB," which he did for the next 11 years. In 1985 he was again Editor of the magazine.

In 1987 Kinsley published the first of his two books, Curse of the Giant Muffins and other Washington Maladies. (In 1996 he would publish his second, a collection of essays and columns titled Big Babies: On Presidents, Politics and National Crazes.)

In 1989 Kinsley moved to England to work as the "American Survey" editor of The Economist.  Seven months later he returned to Washington, DC to become the left host of the Cable News Network (CNN) debate show Crossfire, a position he would hold for the next six-and-a-half years. He also became moderator of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) show Firing Line, which freed its longtime host William F. Buckley, Jr., to dispense with the moderator role and thereby to take sides in debates.

During these years Kinsley became a celebrity and wrote liberal opinion pieces for the Wall Street Journal and articles for The New Yorker and Time magazine. He also had small roles in three movies -- Rising Sun (1993), Dave (1993, playing himself), and The Birdcage (1996).

In January 1994 Kinsley was offered the top editor job at New York magazine. He accepted, then hours later retracted his acceptance, apparently because he had no desire to leave his suburban home in Chevy Chase, Maryland and "dreaded" the idea of living in New York City. Kinsley subsequently "spent a year and a half sulking over my stupidity in turning it [the New York magazine job] down."

In 1995 Kinsley discussed editorial opportunities with Time Warner, Inc. and then, after being told by writer friend Nicholas Lemann that Microsoft Corporation was looking for editors, approached fellow Harvard alumnus and Microsoft Executive Vice President Steven Ballmer about creating an online magazine for the company.

Some at Microsoft were concerned that Kinsley, being "on the left," might produce a magazine that would alienate many Microsoft customers. "My politics are pretty eclectic, averaging out I suppose as a moderate-liberal with a libertarian streak," Kinsley described himself at the time in an email to Microsoft executive Russell Siegelman. "One thing I would NOT be interested in would be being 'paired' with a conservative product. That would be unfair to me, and unfair to the real left. It's one of the things I'm trying to get away from at Crossfire." 

Kinsley proposed creating an online magazine that would include "modules" or mini-magazines "from different political viewpoints. Not just left/right, but mainstream conservative; mainstream liberal; progressive left; libertarian; … etc."

Microsoft hired Kinsley, paying him, according to one source, "just under two hundred thousand dollars [per year], not counting a bonus."

In 1995 Microsoft's new liberal-left magazine, Slate, was born, with Kinsley as its founding Editor. Its features soon included ongoing debates between famous pundits and scholars. In 1999 Kinsley was named "Editor of the Year" by the Columbia Journalism Review.

In December 2001 Kinsley announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In early 2002 he retired from Slate, though he continued to write columns for that publication and the Washington Post.

In 2003 Kinsley wed Microsoft executive Patty Stonesifer, who had been a key figure in the launches of Slate, MSNBC and the company's digital encyclopedia Encarta. Kinsley and Stonesifer moved to Los Angeles, where the latter had accepted a job at the movie and media studio Dreamworks. Microsoft chief Bill Gates soon persuaded Stonesifer to leave Dreamworks and become co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with Bill Gates, Sr.

In January 2004 Kinsley became the Editorial and Opinion Editor of the Los Angeles Times. He was almost certainly hired to advance this newspaper's continuing shift to the left politically. He was soon attacked by left-liberal Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly over a conservative writer whose opinion piece Kinsley had published.

In 2005 Kinsley was similarly attacked by University of Southern California law professor Susan Estrich, who had managed the failed 1988 presidential campaign of Democratic standard-bearer Michael Dukakis. After Kinsley rejected an op-ed article Estrich had submitted, Estrich publicly accused him of discriminating against female writers. Subsequent research revealed that in the Los Angeles Times, Kinsley during 2005 had published a higher proportion (20 percent) of female-authored op-ed pieces than had fellow liberal newspapers The New York Times (17 percent) or the Washington Post (10 percent).

In May 2005 the Los Angeles Times acknowledged that its average circulation had plummeted by almost eight percent since March 2004. After a dispute with the publisher, Kinsley announced his departure from the Times in September 2005. For awhile he resumed writing a weekly column that appeared in the Washington Post and Slate magazine, and in 2006 he served a brief stint as American editor of The Guardian. Today he is a regular columnist for Time Magazine.

On July 12, 2006 Kinsley underwent a surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in an effort to stem the progression of his Parkinson's Disease.



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