William Safire

William Safire

Infobox Writer
name = William Safire

imagesize = 200px
caption = William Safire receiving the 2006 Presidential Medal of Freedom
pseudonym =
birthdate = birth date and age|1929|12|17
birthplace = New York City, New York United States
deathdate =
deathplace =
occupation = Author, Columnist, Lexicographer, Journalist, and Speechwriter
nationality = American
period =
genre = Non-fiction
subject = Politics
movement =
influences =
influenced =

website =

William L. Safire (born December 17, 1929) is an American author, semi-retired columnist, and former journalist and presidential speechwriter.

He is perhaps best known as a long-time syndicated political columnist for "The New York Times" and a regular contributor to "On Language" in the "New York Times Magazine", a column on popular etymology, new or unusual usages, and other language-related topics.


Born to a Jewish family called Safir, William later added the "e" for pronunciation reasons, though some of his relatives continue to use the original spelling. Safire is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, a public school in New York City. He attended Syracuse University but dropped out after having attended only two years. Safire would later deliver a commencement address at Syracuse and become a trustee of the university.

From 1955 to 1960, Safire was a public relations executive. Previously, he had been a radio and television producer and a United States Army correspondent.Safire worked as a publicist for a homebuilder who exhibited a model home in Moscow in 1957. In the model home Richard Nixon and Nikita Khruschev had their famous "Kitchen Debate". Safire subsequently joined Nixon's campaign for the 1960 Presidential campaign, and again on the 1968 campaign. After Nixon's 1968 victory Safire served as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew; he is well known for having created Agnew's famous term, "nattering nabobs of negativism."

Safire joined the "New York Times" as a political columnist in 1973. In 1978, he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary on Bert Lance's alleged budgetary irregularities. However, subsequent investigations by Congress found no wrongdoing.

Upon announcing the retirement of Safire's political column in 2005, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of "The New York Times," said:

:"The New York Times" without Bill Safire is all but unimaginable, Bill's provocative and insightful commentary has held our readers captive since he first graced our Op-Ed Page in 1973. Reaching for his column became a critical and enjoyable part of the day for our readers across the country and around the world. Whether you agreed with him or not was never the point, his writing is delightful, informed and engaging."

Since 1995 Safire has served as a member of the Pulitzer Board. After ending his op-ed column, Safire became the full-time chief executive of the Dana Foundation where he has been chairman since 2000.

In 2006, Safire was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush.


Safire describes himself as a libertarian conservative. A "Washington Post" story on the ending of his op-ed column quotes him on the subject::I'm willing to zap conservatives when they do things that are not libertarian. [After the 9/11 attacks,] I was the first to really go after George W. on his treatment of prisoners.

After voting for Bill Clinton in 1992, Safire became one of the leading critics of Clinton's administration. Hillary Clinton in particular was often the target of his ire. He caused a mild tempest when he called her a "congenital liar"; Hillary responded that she didn't feel offended for herself, but for her mother's sake. According to the president's press secretary at the time, Mike McCurry, "the president, if he were not the president, would have delivered a more forceful response to that on the bridge of Mr. Safire's nose."

Safire was one of several voices who called for war with Iraq, and predicted a "quick war," with Iraqis cheering their liberators. Many readers who followed his columns in "The New York Times" felt dismayed when he consistently brought up the point that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 attackers, in Prague, Czech Republic. [William Safire: ' [http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/24/opinion/24SAFI.html?ex=1385096400&en=675f702fa2295ecc&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND Missing Links Found] ". The New York Times, November 24, 2003] This theory had been debunked by the CIA and other credible intelligence agencies [See for example the chapter " [http://www.gpoaccess.gov/911/pdf/fullreport.pdf#page=246 Atta's Alleged Trip to Prague] " in the 9-11 Commission Report, pp.228-9] (see Mohamed Atta's alleged Prague connection). Still Safire kept insisting that this theory was true and used it to make a case for war against Iraq. Safire had also said that "freed scientists" would lead coalition forces to "caches (Of weapons of mass destruction) no inspectors could find [William Safire: [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F01E4D81F38F933A25757C0A9659C8B63 Jubilant V-I Day] , The New York Times, April 10, 2003.] ] ." This never happened, and no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

Several prominent journalists have written in-depth criticisms of Safire's columns in the years after 9/11, including The Nation's David Corn and former 60 Minutes producer Barry Lando. "Safire's recent work - unburdened by factchecking, unchallenged by editors - shows he is more intent on manipulating than interpreting the available information," Corn wrote in 2004. On Salon.com, Lando details Safire's false accusations toward a French company for facilitating a weapons materials sale between China and Iraq - a sale that in fact never went through. Lando uses Safire's allegedly irresponsible and erroneous writing to address the larger question of op-ed columnists' accountability and how it differs from that of news reporters.

He is a staunch defender of policy in favor of Israel and for this reason received the Guardian of Zion Award of Bar-Ilan University in 2005.


The following is a partial list of his writings:


*"The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular Language Column in the New York Times Magazine" (2004) ISBN 0-7432-4244-0
*"No Uncertain Terms: More Writing from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine" (2003) ISBN 0-7432-4243-2

* "Scandalmonger" (2000) ISBN 0-684-86719-2
* "Sleeper Spy" (1995) ISBN 0-679-43447-X
* "Freedom: A Novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War" (1987) ISBN 0-385-15903-X
* "Full Disclosure" (1978) ISBN 0-385-12115-6

* "Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History" (1997) ISBN 0-393-04005-4
* "Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice" (1989) ISBN 0-671-67535-4
* "Good Advice" (1982) quotations compiled with his brother, Leonard Safir ISBN 0-517-08473-2

Political works
* "Safire's Political Dictionary", 3rd edition, Random House, NY, 1968, 1972, 1978. ISBN 0394502612
* "The Relations Explosion"
* "Plunging into Politics"
* "Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House"

* "In Event of Moon Disaster", a presidential speech Safire wrote (but Nixon never delivered)



* Larry Berman and Bruce W. Jentleson, "Bush and the Post-Cold War World" New Challenges for American Leadership" in "The Bush Presidency: First Appraisals". eds. Colin Campbell, S.J., Bert A. Rockman. 1991. Chatham House. ISBN 0-934540-90-X.

External links

* [http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=William_Safire Profile: William Safire] , SourceWatch
*David Corn. [http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0225-08.htm The Propaganda of William Safire] , The Nation, February 25, 2004.
* [http://www.nytimes.com/ref/opinion/SAFIRE-BIO.html Columnist Biography, William Safire] , from the "New York Times"
* [http://www.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/williamsafire/ Archive of political columns] from the "New York Times"
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4459615 William Safire Retires "Times" Op-Ed Column] , a January 2005 story from NPR
* [http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000719411 Safire to Retire from 'NYT' Op-Ed Column] , a November 2004 article from "Editor & Publisher"
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52678-2004Nov15.html William Safire to End Op-Ed Run at "N.Y. Times"] , a November 2004 article from "The Washington Post"
* [http://clinton6.nara.gov/1996/01/1996-01-09-statement-by-the-president.html Clinton's reaction after Safire calls his wife a liar] , from the National Archives and Records Administration
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/williamsafire/ 1987 audio interview of William Safire, RealAudio at Wired for Books.org]
* [http://www.indecision2008.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=165388 Interview on Indecision2008 by Jon Stewart]
* [http://radio.nationalreview.com/betweenthecovers/post/?q=ZDYyZTc2Y2U3NzY1MDE0Y2QwNjRlYWE4YmU5NWQ1NWY= Audio interview on National Review Online]
* http://www.thenation.com/blogs/capitalgames?pid=1280
* http://dir.salon.com/story/opinion/feature/2004/02/21/safire/index.html

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