Whatever happened to the Public Interest online?

Media | Access/Network

 “The Public Interest has had more influence on domestic policy than any other journal in the country – by far,” wrote David Brooks in his Times column in March 2005, after the quarterly had finished its forty year run. “All we'll have are the archives, at www.thepublicinterest.com.”

The archives didn't even last a year. It was live in February 2006 before it lapsed to a domain parker. Adding insult to the proverbial injury is the fact that the intellectual movement which the Public Interest spawned, neoconservatism, is irretrievably lost as well, due to the ongoing disaster of the Iraq war. February 2006 was a coincidental moment for the death of the movement: On the 22nd of that month, the dome of the al-Askarai Mosque in Samarra was blown up, which while not changing the reality on the ground in Iraq, most assuredly changed the perception in Washington. It was only a few days before that Francis Fukyuma wrote in the Times magazine that “the neoconservative moment appears to have passed,” and by doing so, deftly providing a match for all who wanted it burned in effigy. “Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony.” Those complex roots that were in the pages of the Public Interest have gone missing.

I only discovered the missing archives in a roundabout way. A search through Google Books for the phrase “derivative journalism” uncovers an early mention comes from some issue of the Public Interest. But alas, the search result page does not appear to point to a particular issue. (Adding to the confusion, the Boston Public Library is not included in WorldCat listings, but a direct search brings it up.)

The hindrance with Google at this point is that the default copyright limitation is to only show an inch of text around the sought word. The quoted section is supposed to be on page 18, in the article “The Principle of the Hiding Hand.” But a look through the physical book shows no such word. So we return to the search tool, trying different clues in order to try and get better hints to the title. There were several dead ends, but this chain led us to the answer: A search on “pure journalism” brings up the Carnegie report. A search on “Carnegie report” mentions up Ford and Public Television. A search on Carnegie television brings us the article title: “Carnegie, Ford, and Public Television” by Stephen White. A book search on the that title shows that the article was from issue 9, Fall 1967. I looked at that very copy at the library, and did not see the article. It didn't matter as I was able to find an earlier use of the term.

I have some suggestions, though, to help the next researcher:

  1. It's possible that the Google Book Search, for Public Interest and other periodicals has indexed multiple issues in the same “book.” They should figure out the extent to which this has been done, and mark pages accordingly, and initiate a plan to index them properly.

  2. Google should separate out a Periodical Search from its Book Search utility, as the two are inherently different. JSTOR and Highbeam Research, while less known to the general public, provide excellent facet-based searches (here's Highbeam's; JSTOR's is only available through member libraries.)

  3. The copyright owners of Public Interest (Freedom House or Irving Kristol) should decide if they want to make electronic archives available and where. Only the articles since 1993 are available through High Beam Research. JSTOR has stricter requirements for which journals it includes. It can be a simple decision to simply make these available through Google—provided that Google develops a proper periodical search.