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Interns, the 13th Amendment, and Me

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a film company, Fox Searchlight, should have paid its interns instead of expecting them to work for free. “Like their counterparts in other industries,” explained the New York Times, “the interns took lunch orders, answered phones, arranged other employees’ travel plans, tracked purchase orders, took out the trash and assembled office furniture.”

We here at TNR have been wondering for years who these young people were who were performing these tedious functions in our offices for no charge. In addition to the activities listed by the Times, TNR interns clean the bathrooms, read all the comments on our blog (someone’s got to), and analyze all buy-out offers from hedge funds.

What world does this judge live in? As he himself describes it, it is a world where all of these activities are “usually undertaken by paid employees.” Right. Why, just the other day we saw Rupert Murdoch wielding an allen wrench over the pieces of an Ikea desk, a look of profound despair creeping over his features.

In truth, it is well known that most people lose their ability to understand the instructions for assembling office furniture some time in their 20s. Out of sheer compassion, these young people stop to help when they see an editor in her 30s or a writer in his 50s searching in despair for that last screw.

Insert Monica Lewinsky joke here. Or perhaps not.

The interns at Fox Searchlight apparently were caught by surprise when their Friday pay envelopes contained nothing but a printed card reading, “Howdy, Suckers.” That does not happen at The New Republic, where we make clear from the start that all interns are on call 24 hours a day, must be prepared at all times with a coherent analysis of the future of the Euro, and must never, ever ask to be paid.

“More money?” the publisher cackled the last time an intern brought up this sensitive subject. “How can I pay you more when I don’t pay you anything at all? Answer me that, eh?” He shuffled off, mumbling to himself, “Paid intern? Why, that’s a contradiction in terms."