Michael Kinsley was born to Jewish parents on March 9, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. In 1972 he graduated from Harvard University, where he had served as an editor and vice president of the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. Kinsley subsequently attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and then enrolled in Harvard Law School. In 1976, one of his law professors, Martin Peretz, owner of the Washington-based magazine The New Republic (TNR), hired Kinsley as that publication’s managing editor. Kinsley completed his Juris Doctor degree requirements in 1977 by taking evening courses at George Washington University Law School. During that same period (mid-1970s), he also served briefly as managing editor of the Washington Monthly.
Kinsley resigned from TNR in 1979 because of a spat with Peretz, but was rehired later that year as the magazine’s editor. He left TNR again in 1981, this time to take a job in New York City as editor of Harper’s magazine. Kinsley lasted 20 months during a power struggle within the board of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which owned Harper’s, over who would control the magazine. The winner of that struggle, Rick MacArthur, suspended Kinsley on the pretext that the latter had accepted a junket to Israel. MacArthur then restored Lewis Lapham as the magazine’s editor.
In September 1983 Kinsley returned to Washington to write a TNR column titled “TRB,” which he would continue to write for the next 11 years. “TRB” was also reprinted in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and other newspapers, thereby raising Kinsley’s profile as a political commentator.
After serving a second stint as TNR editor from 1985-89, Kinsley in ’89 moved to England to work as the “American Survey” editor of The Economist. Later that year, he returned to the U.S. to host the CNN debate show Crossfire, a position he would hold until 1995. Kinsley also became the moderator of the PBS program Firing Line, a move that freed his predecessor, William F. Buckley Jr., to take sides in the discussions.
In January 1994 Kinsley was offered the top editor job at New York magazine. He accepted, then hours later retracted his acceptance because he “dreaded” the thought of leaving his suburban home in Chevy Chase, Maryland and living in New York City. Kinsley subsequently “spent a year and a half sulking over my stupidity in turning [that job] down.”
In 1994 as well, Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
After discussing editorial opportunities with Time Warner, Inc. in 1995, Kinsley was told by writer friend Nicholas Lemann that the Microsoft Corporation was looking for editors. Thus he approached Microsoft executive vice president Steven Ballmer about the possibility of creating for the company an online publication that would present “different political viewpoints.” From that meeting, Slate magazine was born, with Kinsley as its founding editor.
In December 2001 Kinsley finally went public with his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. In early 2002 he retired from Slate, though he continued to write columns for that publication as well as the Washington Post.
In January 2004 Kinsley became the editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times. After a dispute with the publisher, he announced his departure from the paper in September 2005. For awhile Kinsley resumed writing a weekly column that appeared in both the Washington Post and Slate, and in 2006 he served a brief stint as American editor-at-large for The Guardian.
Kinsley also became a regular columnist for Time magazine, where, in a controversial September 2007 piece, he defended a full-page New York Times ad in which MoveOn.org referred to General David Petraeus – who had recently given a very positive assessment of the accomplishments of President Bush’s deployment of some 20,000 additional American troops in Iraq – as “General Betray Us.” Though the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to condemn the ad, Kinsley claimed that the ad was “merely … questioning the general’s honesty, not his patriotism.”
Though he was terminated by Time in 2009, Kinsley wrote numerous pieces that year for the Washington Post, and in 2010 he served as editor-at-large for The Atlantic magazine. Also in 2010, while many Americans were objecting to the proposed construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City, Kinsley wrote: “Is there any reason to oppose the mosque that isn’t bigoted, or demagogic, or unconstitutional? None that I’ve heard or read.”
In May 2010, Kinsley characterized the conservative Tea Party phenomenon as a movement “by, for, and about middle-aged and old people” who were “overwrought,” “monomaniacal,” inclined to “throw tantrums and hold their breath until they turn blue,” and obsessed with “stripping health insurance [Obamacare] away from people who’ve just gotten it.” “The Tea Party’s atmospherics,” he added, had “a nasty, sour, vindictive tone” that was “all about personal grievance and taking umbrage and feeling put-upon.”
In September 2010, Kinsley joined the staff of Politico as one of the publication’s first opinion columnists. On election day that November, he wrote that “anyone who voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and now is supporting some tea party madwoman for senator has a bit of explaining to do.”
From April 2011 through March 2013, Kinsley served on the editorial board of the Bloomberg View, where, in an October 2012 op-ed, he urged readers to re-elect President Obama, whose “good record” included “navigat[ing] us through the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression in a way that (in my opinion) deserves a B+.” Moreover, Kinsley wrote that Obama “didn’t get us into any wars, and there were no major terrorist episodes on his watch.”
In January 2013, Kinsley re-joined TNR as editor-at-large. A year later, Vanity Fair hired him to be a contributing editor and to write a monthly column.
In September 2015, as controversy threatened to derail the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, Kinsley in Vanity Fair urged the Democrats to consider running California Governor Jerry Brown as a possible replacement for Mrs. Clinton. In the article, Kinsley praised Brown for being “intellectually curious,” possessing a “speculative mind,” “com[ing] across as something fresh and original,” and having had a “miraculous second round as governor.”
In December 2016, Kinsley wrote in The Washington Post that President-elect “Donald Trump is actually a fascist” who embraced the notion that “a toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the world.” Four months later, Kinsley wrote in The New York Times: “The establishment press has been vicious about Donald Trump. He’s portrayed, day after day, as a narcissist, personally obnoxious, with a policy agenda to match. He deserves most of this criticism.”
For additional information on Michael Kinsley, click here.
Further Reading: “Michael Kinsley” (DigitalRiptide.org, CNN.com); “‘It’s All Turned Out Real Well’” (DBusiness.com, 8-18-2015); “The Re-Education of Michael Kinsley” (KenAuletta.com, 5-13-1996); “New Pen for TRB” (Washington Post, 5-5-1983); “What Parkinson’s Has Taught Michael Kinsley About Aging” (NextAvenue.org, 5-4-2016); “A Slate Timeline” (Slate.com, 6-18-2006); “Kinsley, Veteran Commentator, Is Named Times Opinion Editor” (Los Angeles Times, 4-29-2004); “Getting Outraged Over MoveOn” (by Michael Kinsley, 9-17-2007); “Joe Scarborough, Michael Kinsley Join Politico” (Huffington Post, 9-9-2010); “Michael Kinsley Returns To The New Republic As Editor-At-Large” (Huffington Post, 12-21-2012); “Michael Kinsley Named Columnist for Vanity Fair by Graydon Carter” (Vanity Fair, 1-19-2014); “Why Aren’t the Democrats Trying to Draft Jerry Brown?” (by Michael Kinsley, Vanity Fair, 9-17-2015); “Donald Trump Is Actually a Fascist” (by Michael Kinsley, 12-9-2016).