Monday, January 24, 2005


William Safire’s last columns appear in The New York Times today. The Times becomes a slightly better newspaper tomorrow.

To mark the occasion, the Times has turned over its entire Op-Ed page to Safire, who’s rendered the space useless by writing four pieces to fill it. “We were eager to do whatever we could to mark the moment,” said page editor Gail Collins to Editor & Publisher. “It was a neat thing.”


I do not like Safire because he has a habit of pushing opinions based on information he knows is discredited — notably the story about a 9/11 hijacker meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent. This served as a foundation for arguing an Iraq-Al Qaeda link and supporting the invasion and occupation of the country. Safire may be the last person on Earth who believes this meeting took place. But he wrote about it frequently in the hopes of finding, well, creating, another.

I can’t give many further examples; I stopped reading Safire long ago, because every time I did I found his work suspect to the point of worthlessness, like taking directions from someone who keeps telling you the Earth is flat. Many people have made the same argument about Safire’s suspect nature, and I provide some links here, starting with Salon noting that he wants to be remembered for his skills as a reporter. The online magazine asks, “Why?”

Here’s one that describes how deception by Safire, a speechwriter for President Nixon who should have known better, turned someone away from conservatism with a lie about Nixon being harassed by hippies.

And here’s a couple of nice annotations of Safire columns that lay bare his usual techniques of audacious evasion and semantic cherry picking.

How disappointing that the Times let Safire run on for so long this way. It would be nice to think the paper will choose a far better replacement conservative, but, based on the its recent addition of David Brooks, that’s hoping for too much. Brooks himself is merely a more subtle Safire, a “fifth columnist” in that at least four-fifths of any given column will be reasonable, rational and sympathetic, but the lurking remainder betrays the rest, making it meaningless.

It’s unclear if that’s an improvement.

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