Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Brilliant William Safire Retires At The NYT

William Safire retired yesterday, Jan. 24, from the New York Times, although he will continue to write his language column in the Times magazine. The NYT devoted the entire op-ed page to him, including a piece in which he assessed what his great winners and losers were.

Hiring Safire was one of the best hires Punch Sulzberger ever made, because having a really able conservative on the op-ed page enhanced NYT credibility no end. The LAT could and should do the same thing, but Max Boot so far is no match for Safire.

The New York Times has had other great conservatives on its pages, including C.L. Sulzberger as foreign affairs columnist, a great booster of Charles de Gaulle, and Hanson Baldwin as longtime military correspondent. Having this balance was one of the things that made the NYT a great newspaper.

Safire wasn't always conservative. He wrote independently, not always taking the expected positions, and, as such, he kept his audience. He has to be regarded as one of the country's most successful columnists, almost as successful as the LAT's Steve Lopez.

Safire was a great champion of Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister, and he also championed the Kurds in Iraq and the Baltic states in their quest for freedom. He was right about all these. And with his superb command of the English language, he has been a Godsend to American journalism.

He could be stubborn. I remember he came to the L.A. Times for lunch on the day Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, and he remarked to some of us what an outrage he thought it was that Saigon was being renamed Ho Chi Minh City. But I responded that after all the North Vietnamese had won the war.

Let's hope Saddam is never in a position to rename Baghdad Saddam Hussein City. It could happen, if the L.A. Times editorial pages have their way.

But yesterday I may have been too hard on Nick Goldberg, the LAT Op-Ed Page Editor. I know Goldberg to be sincere. Sometimes, my tone is too sharp.


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