William Safire, Author, columnist, journalist, Died at 79


Dead, William Lewis Safire on September 27, 2009 at the age of 79, he was an American author, columnist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter. Born William Lewis Safir on December 17, 1929 in New York City, New York, the son of Ida (née Panish) and Oliver Craus Safir.

His family was Jewish, and originated in Romania on his father’s side. Safire later added the “e” to his surname for pronunciation reasons, though some of his relatives continue to use the original spelling.

Safire graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, a specialized public high school in New York City. He was a public relations executive from 1955 to 1960. Previously, he had been a radio and television producer and an Army correspondent.

He worked as a publicist for a homebuilder who exhibited a model home at an American trade fair at Sokolniki Park in Moscow in 1959—the one in which Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev had their famous “Kitchen Debate.”

A widely circulated black-and-white photograph of the event was taken by Safire. Safire joined Nixon’s campaign for the 1960 Presidential race, and again in 1968. After Nixon’s 1968 victory, Safire served as a speechwriter for him and for Spiro Agnew; he is well known for having created Agnew’s famous term, “nattering nabobs of negativism”.

He joined the New York Times as a political columnist in 1973. Soon after joining the Times, Safire learned that he had been the target of “national security” wiretaps authorized by Nixon, and, after noting that he had worked only on domestic matters, wrote with what he characterized as “restrained fury” that he had not worked for Nixon through a difficult decade “to have him—or some lizard-lidded paranoid acting without his approval—eavesdropping on my conversations.”

Safire was one of several voices who called for war with Iraq, and predicted a “quick war” and wrote: “Iraqis, cheering their liberators, will lead the Arab world toward democracy.”

He consistently brought up the point in his Times columns that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 attackers, in Prague, which he called an “undisputed fact”, a theory which was disputed by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Safire insisted that the theory was true and used it to make a case for war against Iraq. Between March 2002 and the invasion a year later, Safire would write a total of 27 opinion pieces in support of the war. Safire also incorrectly predicted that “freed scientists” would lead coalition forces to “caches [of weapons of mass destruction] no inspectors could find”.

A former speechwriter and public relations writer, and special assistant to President Richard Nixon, William Safire joined The New York Times as a Washington-based columnist in 1973.

He won a 1978 Pulitzer Prize for his commentary. William Safire wrote numerous books on writing and language, including How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar (2005).