Safire, William

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SAFIRE, WILLIAM (1929– ), columnist. Born in New York, he studied at Syracuse University but left after only two years, in 1949. His first job was as a researcher for Tex McCracy, who had a gossip column in the New York Herald Tribune. After serving as a correspondent in Europe and the Middle East for wnbc radio and tv, he joined the U.S. Army in 1952, working for the Armed Forces Radio Network for the next two years.

On leaving the service, Safire returned to New York, where he worked for Tex McCracy's public relations firm and helped to produce McCracy's syndicated radio show. In 1959 Safire opened his own public relations firm and traveled to Moscow that year for the American National Exhibition. While there, he met Vice President Richard Nixon and helped to set up the famous "kitchen debate" between Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in which each leader argued the merits of his country's particular system of government.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Safire was in charge of special projects for the Nixon-Lodge candidacy and wrote much of the campaign literature. In 1961 he established Safire Public Relations Inc., which handled the campaigns of a number of New York Republican leaders, including Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and John Lindsay. His first two books appeared during this period, The Relations Explosion (1963) and Plunging into Politics (1964).

From 1965 on Safire was immersed in Richard Nixon's campaign for the presidency. He ghostwrote Nixon's syndicated column and, in 1968, authored Nixon's election victory speech. His third book appeared that year entitled The New Language of Politics. As a special assistant to President Nixon, Safire wrote major speeches for the president on the Vietnam War and economic policies. On loan to Spiro Agnew in 1972, Safire coined the oft-quoted alliterative phrases "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "hopeless hysterical hypochondriacs of history." His articles for the New York Times and Washington Post during the campaign ultimately led to the invitation for him to write a regular column in the New York Times, which he began in 1974.

Safire wrote his White House memoirs in a non-fiction volume entitled Before the Fall (1975) and in a political novel, Full Disclosure (1977). He combined the talents of columnist and investigative reporter when in 1977 he broke the story on the financial affairs of Bert Lance, President Jimmy Carter's special assistant and key fundraiser. That investigation led to Safire's winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for "distinguished commentary."

In 1979 he began a regular Sunday column in The New York Times Magazine entitled "On Language," which focuses on grammar, usage, and etymology.

An avowed "hawk" on foreign policy, Safire also strongly supported Israel. He especially championed the government of Menachem Begin and Begin's bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq.

His other books include On Language (1980), Safire's Washington (1980), Leadership (1991), Fumblerulers (1991), Safire's New Political Dictionary (1993), The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today's Politics (1992), No Uncertain Terms (2003), and the novels Freedom (1987), Sleeper Spy (1995), and Scandalmonger (2000). He also edited Good Advice (with L. Safire, 1993) and Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History (1997).

Safire's grandfather was the publisher of one of New York's daily Yiddish newspapers.

[David Geffen /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]