Navasky, Victor S(aul) 1932-

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NAVASKY, Victor S(aul) 1932-

PERSONAL: Born July 5, 1932, in New York, NY; son of Macy and Esther (Goldberg) Navasky; married Anne Strongin, March 27, 1966; children: Bruno, Miri. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1954; Yale University, LL.B., 1959. Politics: Democratic. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Office—The Nation, 33 Irving Pl., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: State of Michigan, Lansing, special assistant to the Governor, 1959-60; Monocle (political satire magazine), New York, NY, editor and publisher, 1961-70; New York Times Magazine, New York, NY, manuscript editor, 1970-72; The Nation, editor in chief, 1978—, publisher and editorial director, 1995—; Columbia University, New York, NY, Delacorte Professor of Journalism and director of George Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism, 1999—. Adjunct associate professor, New York University, 1972-73; visiting professor, Wesleyan University, 1975; visiting scholar, Russell-Sage Foundation, 1975-76; Ferris Visiting Professor of Journalism, Princeton University, 1976-77. Consultant, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, 1961. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-56.

MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim memorial fellowship, 1974-75; American Book Award in paperback nonfiction category, 1982, for Naming Names; Carey McWilliams Award from American Political Science Association, 2001.


(Editor, with Richard R. Lingeman) The Monocle Peep Show, Bantam (New York, NY), 1965.

Kennedy Justice, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, toExcel (San Jose, CA), 1999.

Naming Names, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

The Blacklist, Who Really Lost? (sound recording), CBS News Audio Resource Library (New York, NY), 1980.

(Compiler, with Christopher Cerf) The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor, with Katrina vanden Heuvel) The Best of "The Nation": Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Author of monthly column, "In Cold Print," New York Times Book Review, 1972-76. Has contributed articles and reviews to professional journals. Contributing editor, Antioch Review.

SIDELIGHTS: As a student at Yale Law School, Victor S. Navasky learned how to explain complicated political issues in accessible terms. This ability has served him well in his career as a political journalist, for he wrestles with complicated legal questions in almost all his writing, whether for books or magazines. While his duties as editor-in-chief of the Nation sharply limit his time for outside projects, Navasky has written several books, including Kennedy Justice, Naming Names, and The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation. These works on politically-charged subjects reflect the tenor Navasky brings to all his work. "He bores in relentlessly, works hard, and scores by sheer perseverance and sharpness of mind," according to Washington Post Book World reviewer David Caute.

Navasky's first book, Kennedy Justice, is a detailed study of the justice department under Robert Kennedy. The book took more than five years to research and write, but when it was published, critics deemed the time well spent. "This is probably the best book ever written on a Kennedy brother, and it may be the best book ever written on an executive department of the Federal Government," wrote George F. Will in the National Review. In his New York Times Book Review critique, Joseph Kraft explained why the book warrants such lavish praise: "It comes as close as seems humanly possible to an understanding of the relation between Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. There is an abundance of new information on such portentous business as civil rights, crime, legislative reapportionment, the bugging of Martin Luther King, and the getting of Jimmy Hoffa. The narrative, which is strong, and the judgment, which is fine, express Mr. Navasky's dual career as a journalist . . . and a lawyer (trained at Yale)."

Central to Navasky's account is the dynamic personality of Robert Kennedy who, as Attorney General and brother to the President, wielded enormous governmental power. Aware that "the law may be used as a political weapon—especially where the Attorney General enjoys a 'relationship to the President,'" Navasky questions whether Kennedy compromised justice for political ends, especially in his relationship with Hoover and in his use of wiretapping.

Despite the opportunity for bias inherent in such a subject, most critics felt that Kennedy Justice presents a balanced view. "This is no anti-Kennedy diatribe. Far from it," declared John J. Fried in the New Republic. Fried added, "It is an intricate and thorough study of Robert Kennedy's tenure as Attorney General, a scholarly work. Navasky gives Kennedy high marks for bringing intelligent and humane law to the justice department, for using the best and most imaginative ideas available to him, for inspiring those who surrounded him, for committing himself to social reform and equal justice." As Laurence I. Barrett put it in Time magazine, "Kennedy's power sources were also disguised traps. The brother in the White House had to be protected; that meant trying to salvage some support for white Southerners and avoiding a showdown with Hoover," who became "more firmly entrenched than ever."

"The final moral is melancholy," reported Robert Lekachman in the New Leader. "In many ways [Kennedy] was a man of exemplary virtue, faithful to friends, loyal to his associates, and compassionate to those who touched his emotions....Yet most of the marks of his term as Attorney General were easily erased by the agents of a new Administration. Nothing permanent was changed." Barrett counted it a measure of Navasky's skill that Kennedy's image remains intact at the book's close. "The remarkable thing about Navasky's critical treatment is that Kennedy does not emerge as a shattered icon; the zest and the victories he brought to his department are not merely noted for the record, but given equal time." George F. Will concluded, "Navasky's book is a good biography and more. And it is a good biography precisely because it is more."

In Navasky's second book, Naming Names, he turns his reporting skills to an investigation of the blacklist period in Hollywood. As he explained to Publishers Weekly interviewer John F. Baker, the project was prompted as much by personal interest as public concern: "I grew up in a very liberal milieu. And I became aware, as I was going to school in Greenwich Village, that the parents of some of my classmates were out of a job because of their politics." As a college student, Navasky worked at the lodge where actor and ex-communist J. Edward Bromberg was staying and witnessed his harassment by the FBI. Despite a medical certificate advising against it, Bromberg was summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and, shortly thereafter, died of heart failure.

It was not until years later, when Navasky was writing Kennedy Justice, that he found a focus for his concern. "I became interested in the role of the informer," Navasky told Baker, "because Kennedy got Jimmy Hoffa jailed on the basis of information from a man under criminal indictment. Yet this informer was regarded as some kind of hero for helping put Hoffa away."

In his extensive search for information, Navasky interviewed more than 150 actors, writers, directors, and producers questioned by HUAC between 1947 and 1953. The process took eight years, but Navasky's diligence was rewarded with another critical success. "One can only applaud the adroitness with which he has put together a lucid and persuasive narrative from such a mare's nest of fact and supposition," Daniel Aaron wrote in the New York Review of Books when Naming Names was finally published in 1980.

Toward the informers, his approach, according to Caute, "is that of a compassionate but unflinching moralist: Like Sartre before him, he wishes to discover why a person under stress may be said to have acted honorably—or not." Or, as Time's Melvin Maddocks put it, Navasky questions "at what price—not only to their victims and themselves, but to the country as a whole—did these singers sing?"

Navasky told CA that his thesis is essentially that "those who resisted the committee and refused to name names were acting in the spirit of the Constitution and defending the First Amendment. Those who named names ended up contributing to the worst aspects of the domestic cold war."

While Richard Sennett maintained in the New York Times Book Review that Navasky's treatment of his subjects in Naming Names is "striking in its fairness," a few reviewers disagreed. Kenneth S. Lynn commented in the National Review, "In addition to asking loaded questions, Navasky is also given to loaded characterizations." Lynn added, "Thus Elia Kazan, who adamantly refused to be interrogated, is described with withering sarcasm.... About those witnesses, however, who cooperated with Navasky by telling him they were sorry they had cooperated with the Committee, Naming Names is all sweetness and light.... Yet even though we are meant to admire their sensitivity, the real heroes of Naming Names are not the repentant weepers . . . but the tough guys who resisted the Committee first and last, the so-called Hollywood Ten." Lynn reached the ultimate conclusion that "the actual business of the author of Naming Names is the perpetuation of leftist myths."

Maddocks, on the other hand, reached a very different conclusion: "Navasky's findings are the material of continuing debate, but his achievement is unarguable. With Naming Names, the author of Kennedy Justice establishes himself as that rare historian who can, like a novelist, illuminate the boundaries where power and conscience meet."

The same kind of controversy that surrounds Navasky's books also marks his editorship of America's oldest continuous weekly—the Nation. On April 7, 1979, the journal published excerpts from a leaked copy of Gerald Ford's then unpublished memoir, A Time to Heal. Because the manuscript included new material on Ford's unprecedented pardon of former President Richard M. Nixon, Navasky regarded it as "news." To Harper & Row, Ford's publishers, however, it was "slavish copying and wholesale usurpation" and they sued for violation of copyright law. The $12,500 settlement sought by the plaintiff represents the amount they lost when Time magazine canceled its plans to publish selections of the book because they had already appeared in Navasky's magazine.

The publishers say they brought the suit to keep "the law of the jungle from supplanting the rule of law in the publishing business," and to prevent what they call "an open season on copyrighted materials of public officials," according to David Margolick in the New York Times. But Navasky viewed the matter differently. "We consider this case involves two issues—the right to publish under the First Amendment and the public's right to access to Presidential papers," he told Margolick. "Former public officials should be able to copyright their memoirs, but they have no right to withhold the news for private profit," he added in a telephone conversation with CA.

In February, 1983, U.S. District Judge Richard Owen ruled in favor of the publishers. "The Nation took what was essentially the heart of the book," Owen commented, according to Time magazine. But Navasky still maintains the excerpts were newsworthy. Furthermore, he told CA, "It is improper for judges to make decisions about what is and what is not news."

In 1995 Navasky assembled a group of investors (which included the actor Paul Newman and the author E. L. Doctorow) and together purchased the Nation from Arthur L. Carter. Navasky has since served as the liberal magazine's publisher and editorial director. Mary Carroll noted in Booklist that despite the modest circulation of the magazine, its "contributors are first-rate." The magazine presents topical issues from America and abroad and has been praised for its even-handed assessments of liberal viewpoints. When Navasky earned the Carey McWilliams Award from the American Political Science Association in 2001, the association praised the Nation's "willingness to alienate" its own readership.

Navasky and coeditor Katrina Vanden Heuvel put together The Best of "The Nation": Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture, a compendium of the magazine's best articles from the 1990s. Library Journal contributor Stephen L. Hupp praised the book as "thoughtful, lively political and social discussion from a leftist perspective." Carroll too deemed the volume "lively, opinionated commentary on issues that matter."

Between his duties at the Nation and his appointment as Delacorte Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, Navasky has little time to produce books. He and Christopher Cerf collaborated on The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, a collection of absurd forecasts and patently false remarks by experts who truly believed what they were saying at the time. These statements range from medical advice to prognostications on inventions and their usefulness, and even to predictions of the future that turned out completely wrong. Notable among these is the 1930 statement by the U.S. Labor Department that it would be a splendid employment year, and the 1975 statement by the new owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner, who said, "We plan absentee ownership. I'll stick to building ships." A reviewer for Forbes magazine declared that The Experts Speak is "a total delight for dipping into or swimming right on through." Donald Morrison in Time likewise observed: "This book is irreverent, unfair and subversive. What more could anyone ask for? . . . After digesting a few dozen . . . nuggets of certified knowledge, one may feel a tendency to distrust experts of all sorts."



Booklist, August, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of The Best of "The Nation": Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture, p. 2103.

Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1980.

Esquire, December, 1980.

Forbes, April 29, 1985, review of The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, p. 39.

Library Journal, September 1, 2000, Stephen L. Hupp, review of The Best of "The Nation," p. 231.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 16, 1980.

Mediaweek, January 23, 1995, "Navasky wins 'The Nation,'" p. 41.

National Review, November 19, 1971, George F. Will, review of Kennedy Justice; March 6, 1981, Kenneth S. Lynn, review of Naming Names.

New Leader, December 13, 1971, Robert Lekachman, review of Kennedy Justice.

New Republic, October 9, 1971, John J. Fried, review of Kennedy Justice; April 18, 1981.

New Statesman, May 21, 1982, David Caute, review of Naming Names, p. 18.

New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972; December 4, 1980, Daniel Aaron, review of Naming Names.

New York Times, October 8, 1971; October, 16, 1980; February 25, 1980; January 25, 1982; January 28, 1982, Richard Sennett, review of Naming Names.

New York Times Book Review, October 10, 1971, Joseph Kratt, review of Kennedy Justice; October 19, 1980.

Partisan Review, Volume 49, number 3, 1982.

Publishers Weekly, October 10, 1980; March 4, 1983.

Saturday Review, October, 1980.

Time, November 15, 1971; February 28, 1983, Melvin Maddock, review of Naming Names; August 13, 1984, Donald Morrison, review of The Experts Speak, p. 92.

Washington Post, January 3, 1981.

Washington Post Book World, October 12, 1980.


Victor S. Navasky, (June 5, 2002), web page on Navasky, includes photographs.*

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Navasky, Victor S(aul) 1932-

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