William Safire dies
William Safire, 79, conservative political columnist and word maven, died today at a hospice in Rockville, Md., reportedly of pancreatic cancer. The full Washington Post obit can be found here.
Mr. Safire, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 for his scathing columns on the Carter White House budget director Bert Lance, wrote a semi-weekly political column in the Times from 1973 to 2005, penning an erudite and opinionated series of articles, ultimately creating a body of work that he described as libertarian conservative. He said he "was hired to be a sore thumb" at the famously liberal newspaper. "It's time to leave when you're still hitting the long ball and have something else you want to do," he told the Washington Post at the time, one of many baseball-related metaphors that popped up in his work.
He was equally known for his On Language column, which he began writing in 1979, a delightful look at the origins of words and phrases and their proper usage that engaged readers from all over the U.S. He wrote it until two weeks ago.
Critics accused him of trumpeting "scandals" during the Clinton administration that were never proved; he also published several columns pressing the case that Saddam Hussein was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, which was not true, according to the 9/11 Commission.
After Mr. Safire retired from column-writing, he became head of the Dana Foundation, a brain research and neuroethics group. The Foundation announced last week that Mr. Safire was undergoing chemotherapy.
Born in New York City, he dropped out of Syracuse University after two years. He returned a generation later to deliver the commencement address and became a university trustee. He was a correspondent in the U.S. Army and a radio, television and newspaper reporter before running a public relations firm in New York. As a PR man, he was responsible for bringing then-Vice President Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev together in the 1959 Moscow kitchen debate.
In 1968, he joined Nixon's presidential campaign and became a senior speechwriter, credited with coining the phrases "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "hysterical hypochondriacs of history" that Vice President Spiro Agnew used to describe the U.S. media.
He is the author of four novels: Freedom (1987), Full Disclosure (1977), Sleeper Spy (1995) and Scandalmonger (2000). His other titles include a dictionary, a history, anthologies and commentaries.
He was a past member of the Pulitzer Prize board and in 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. Mr. Safire lived in suburban Washington.
The New York Times first reported his death.
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