Columnist William Safire Remembered
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
William Safire, the former New York Times columnist and Nixon speechwriter, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has this personal remembrance.
DANIEL SCHORR: This is the first time I've worked on Yom Kippur. I hope to be forgiven. This evening, I should have broken the fast at the home of Bill Safire for the 40th time. Three weeks ago, Helene Safire advised that Bill was feeling unwell and that break-the-fast party would have to be postponed until next year.
Bill was widely known for his acerbic wit and his way with words. For Vice President Spiro Agnew, he crafted a denunciation of media critics as nattering nabobs of negativism. He would write a column calling first lady Hillary Clinton a congenital liar and then deadpan explain that he meant to call her a congenial lawyer.
But the former Nixon speechwriter could also make friends with President Carter's former budget director Burt Lance after driving him out of office with revelations of financial improprieties. Safire won the Pulitzer Prize for that one.
The combative, conservative libertarian Bill Safire was less well known for his deep loyalties. In 1973, he left his White House speechmaking job as the Watergate cover up was heating up. But as a columnist, he never turned on Nixon.
Bill was also a great promoter of unpopular causes. He embraced the Iraqi Kurds, whom the CIA had led into a disastrous uprising. He more or less adopted me when I was in trouble with the government and with CBS. He devoted a column to criticizing CBS Chairman William Paley, and he backed me.
On my desk is a sort of memorial, a monkey wrench that Bill Safire sent me as a token of my disputes with the government.
This is a bleak Yom Kippur.
This is Daniel Schorr.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.