Skip to comments.Nat Hentoff's Last Column: The 50-Year Veteran Says Goodbye
Posted on 01/08/2009 5:36:18 PM PST by nickcarraway
I've borrowed Woody Guthrie's 1942 song to report that this is my last column for the Voice. I'm not retiring; I've never forgotten my exchange on that decision with Duke Ellington. In those years, he and the band played over 200 one-nighters a year, with jumps from, say, Toronto to Dallas. On one of his rare nights off, Duke looked very beat, and I presumptuously said: "You don't have to keep going through this. With the standards you've written, you could retire on your ASCAP income."
Duke looked at me as if I'd lost all my marbles.
"Retire!" he crescendoed. "Retire to what?!"
I'm still writing. In 2009, the University Press of California will publish my I>At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene, and, later in the year, a sequel to The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance will be out on Seven Stories Press with the title Is This America? And I'll be breaking categories elsewhere, including in my weekly syndicated United Media column, which reaches 250 papers, and my jazz and country music pieces in The Wall Street Journal.
I came here in 1958 because I wanted a place where I could write freely on anything I cared about. There was no pay at first, but the Voice turned out to be a hell of a resounding forum. My wife, Margotlater an editor here and a columnist far more controversial than I've beencalled what this paper was creating "a community of consciousness." Though a small Village "alternative" newspaper, we were reaching many around the country who were turned off by almost any establishment you could think of.
Being here early on, I felt I'd finally been able to connect with what had first startled and excited me as I was reading my journalism mentor, George Seldes, the first press critic. When I was 15, I saw his four-page newsletter, "In Fact: An Antidote to Falsehoods in the Daily Press." He broke stories I'd never seen in any other paper, including The New York Times, stories that gave scientific data on how cigarette smoking caused cancer.
Seldes was also a labor man. You could find "In Fact" in some union halls, and for years, his name was blacked out of The New York Times because, in 1934, he testified about journalists' wages before the National Labor Relations Board just as the Newspaper Guild was trying to organize the Times.
"In Fact" reached a circulation of 176,000 and included newspaper reporters around the country who fed Seldes news that they couldn't get into their own papers.
Seldes was, to say the least, not an admirer of J. Edgar Hoover, and when "In Fact" died in 1950, one of the reasons was that FBI agents had gone into post offices around the nation and copied down the names of subscribersand let them know they were known.
Seldes was also my hero when, after Senator Joseph McCarthy called him into a closed-door session to admit to his Bolshevism, the Great Red Hunter eventually came out of the room, looking unprecedentedly subdued as he told the waiting press that Seldes had been "cleared." George had intimidated Tailgunner Joe.
As a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Seldes, because of his stories, was kicked out of Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Stalin's Russia. Years later, he and I corresponded for a while, and then I finally met him in 1985 when he was in New York promoting his book, The Great Thoughts, about a gallery of freethinkers through the centuries. Some of his other books include Never Tire of Protesting and Lords of the Press.
At 94, Seldes was no longer in the news business, but as I came into his hotel room around nine one morning, he was doing what I do every morning: tearing pages out of stacks of newspapers. Instead of saying, "Hello," he grabbed a handful of clips, gave them to me, and said, "You ought to look into these stories!" Then, smiling, he said, "I'm getting old, yes, but to hell with being mellow."
In 1995, he died at the age of 104 in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.
My other main mentor, I.F. "Izzy" Stone, was inspired by "In Fact" to start "I.F. Stone's Weekly," where mainstream newspaper reporters also sent stories that they couldn't get into their own papers.
One of the lessons I learned from Izzy was to avoid press conferences: "You're not going to get the real story there," he'd say. Instead, I learned from him to find mid-level workers in bureaucracies whom reporters seldom thought to interview. That's how, years ago, I reported for the Voice on the accurate drop-out rate in the city's schools.
Because of the "Seldes and Stone Journalism School" (I've never been in one that actually grants degrees), I got to do at the Voice something that led the late Meg Greenfield, The Washington Post's editorial page editorfor whom I wrote a weekly "Sweet Land of Liberty" column for some 15 yearsto say on my receiving the 1995 National Press Foundations Award for lifetime distinguished contributions to journalism: "Nat Hentoff is never chic. Never has been, as those of us who have known him over the centuries can attest. Never will be. Count on it. He is not tribal in his views and is terribly stubborn. He challenges icons and ideas that are treasured in the community he lives in. He puts on his skunk suit and heads off to the garden party, week after week, again and again."
It was here that I was able to practice, since 1958, what I learned from my non-chic mentors. And I'll be putting on my skunk suit at other garden parties, now that I've been excessed from the Voice.
I was in my twenties when I learned my most important lesson from Izzy Stone: "If you're in this business because you want to change the world, get another day job. If you are able to make a difference, it will come incrementally, and you might not even know about it. You have to get the story and keep on it because it has to be told."
Still, there was one time when I was stunned at meeting a reader changed by what I'd written. One of my sons, Tom, is a partner at Williams & Connolly, a highly prestigious Washington law firm founded by one of my idols in the law, Edward Bennett Williams. Tom, a specialist in intellectual property and defamation, among other areas of law, once invited me to a large gathering in New York of lawyers from around the country who are also experts in those fields. Several lawyers in their thirties, it seemed to me, came to our table, and one, speaking for the others, said to me: "We're here because of you. We were in high school when we started reading you in the Voice, and you made the law so exciting. That, as I've said, is why we're here."
Other Voice writers have had that effect on readersthe late Jack Newfield, for oneand some are still being skunks at garden parties: Tom Robbins and Wayne Barrett. Their calls get returned quickly.
Around the country, a lot of reporters are being excessed, and print newspapers may soon become collectors' items. But over the years, my advice to new and aspiring reporters is to remember what Tom Wicker, a first-class professional spelunker, then at The New York Times, said in a tribute to Izzy Stone: "He never lost his sense of rage."
Neither have I. See you somewhere else. Finally, I'm grateful for the comments on the phone and the Web. It's like hearing my obituaries while I'm still here.
Kind an irony that such a leftie like Hentoff will now be writing for the Wall Street Journal.
The fact that I.F. Stone was his self described mentor, that tells you all you need to know about the POS.
That, and he wrote for the Village Voice.
And that the WSJ is picking him up.
“He puts on his skunk suit and heads off to the garden party, week after week, again and again.”
Hentoff convinced me to become pro-life. He has continually ripped into the liberal double standard of ripping into Gitmo while ignoring the far worse conditions of dissidents in Castro’s Cuba. I don’t always agree with him, but I will read his opinions and give them consideration, given that he the rare liberal nowadays who does not deny the problems in communist utopias.
Recall how Slick manipulated the media by granting them access to primo White House events. We need more journalists who wanna be skunks.
The WSJ is garbage now. Murdoch bought it about 9 months ago.
Hentoff is a strong supporter of the 1st amendment for everyone. Not for him “Free speech for me but not for thee”.
I don't agree with much of what Hentoff stands for, but he is a voice for free speech and THE UNBORN. He has written about the vileness of the Clintons and the censorship of the left, the lies of the proabortionists and the crimes of the UN.
One reason this country is going downhill is because of the reluctance of so many of us to actually READ before voicing an opinion. Not everyone is so cookiecutter as the yammerers on MSNBC and at the NYT.
Yeah, but there is so little demand for honest leftism that the reactions are not surprising. People think it has died out completely.
Here’s an article by the writer you refer to as a POS.
Terri Schiavo: Judicial Murder
Her crime was being disabled, voiceless, and at the disposal of our media
published: March 22, 2005
For all the world to see, a 41-year-old woman, who has committed no crime, will die of dehydration and starvation in the longest public execution in American history.
She is not brain-dead or comatose, and breathes naturally on her own. Although brain-damaged, she is not in a persistent vegetative state, according to an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists.
Among many other violations of her due process rights, Terri Schiavo has never been allowed by the primary judge in her caseFlorida Circuit Judge George Greer, whose conclusions have been robotically upheld by all the courts above himto have her own lawyer represent her.
Greer has declared Terri Schiavo to be in a persistent vegetative state, but he has never gone to see her. His eyesight is very poor, but surely he could have visited her along with another member of his staff. Unlike people in a persistent vegetative state, Terri Schiavo is indeed responsive beyond mere reflexes.
While lawyers and judges have engaged in a minuet of death, the American Civil Liberties Union, which would be passionately criticizing state court decisions and demanding due process if Terri were a convict on death row, has shamefully served as co-counsel for her husband, Michael Schiavo, in his insistent desire to have her die.
Months ago, in discussing this case with ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, and later reading ACLU statements, I saw no sign that this bastion of the Bill of Rights has ever examined the facts concerning the egregious conflicts of interest of her husband and guardian Michael Schiavo, who has been living with another woman for years, with whom he has two children, and has violated a long list of his legal responsibilities as her guardian, some of them directly preventing her chances for improvement. Judge Greer has ignored all of them.
In February, Florida’s Department of Children and Families presented Judge Greer with a 34-page document listing charges of neglect, abuse, and exploitation of Terri by her husband, with a request for 60 days to fully investigate the charges. Judge Greer, soon to remove Terri’s feeding tube for the third time, rejected the 60-day extension. (The media have ignored these charges, and much of what follows in this article.)
Michael Schiavo, who says he loves and continues to be devoted to Terri, has provided no therapy or rehabilitation for his wife (the legal one) since 1993. He did have her tested for a time, but stopped all testing in 1993. He insists she once told him she didn’t want to survive by artificial means, but he didn’t mention her alleged wishes for years after her brain damage, while saying he would care for her for the rest of his life.
Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination. Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, a specialist in heart-lung transplant surgery, has, as The New York Times reported on March 23, “certified [in his practice] that patients were brain dead so that their organs could be transplanted.” He is not just “playing doctor” on this case.
During a speech on the Senate floor on March 17, Frist, speaking of Judge Greer’s denial of a request for new testing and examinations of Terri, said reasonably, “I would think you would want a complete neurological exam” before determining she must die.
Frist added: “The attorneys for Terri’s parents have submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals,all of whom say that Terri should be re-evaluated.”
In death penalty cases, defense counsel for retarded and otherwise mentally disabled clients submit extensive medical tests. Ignoring the absence of complete neurological exams, supporters of the deadly decisions by Judge Greer and the trail of appellate jurists keep reminding us how extensive the litigation in this case has been19 judges in six courts is the mantra. And more have been added. So too in many death penalty cases, but increasingly, close to execution, inmates have been saved by DNA.
As David Gibbs, the lawyer for Terri’s parents, has pointed out, there has been a manifest need for a new federal, Fourteenth Amendment review of the case because Terri’s death sentence has been based on seven years of “fatally flawed” state court findingsall based on the invincible neglect of elementary due process by Judge George Greer.
I will be returning to the legacy of Terri Schiavo in the weeks ahead because there will certainly be long-term reverberations from this case and its fracturing of the rule of law in the Florida courts and then the federal courtsas well as the disgracefully ignorant coverage of the case by the great majority of the media, including such pillars of the trade as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times as they copied each other’s misinformation, like Terri Schiavo being “in a persistent vegetative state.”
Do you know that nearly every major disability rights organization in the country has filed a legal brief in support of Terri’s right to live?
But before I go back to other Liberty Beatsthe CIA’s torture renditions and the whitewashing of the landmark ACLU and Human Rights First’s lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld for his accountability in the widespread abuse of detainees, including evidence of tortureI must correct the media and various “qualified experts” on how a person dies of dehydration if he or she is sentient, as Terri Schiavo demonstrably is.
On March 15’s Nightline, in an appallingly one-sided, distorted account of the Schiavo case, Terri’s husband, Michaelwho’d like to marry the woman he’s now living withsaid that once Terri’s feeding tube is removed at his insistent command, Terri “will drift off into a nice little sleep and eventually pass on and be with God.”
As an atheist, I cannot speak to what he describes as his abandoned wife’s ultimate destination, but I can tell how Wesley Smith (consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture)whom I often consult on these bitterly controversial cases because of his carefully researched books and articlesdescribes death by dehydration.
In his book Forced Exit (Times Books), Wesley quotes neurologist William Burke: “A conscious person would feel it [dehydration] just as you and I would. . . . Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the drying of the mucous membranes, and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining.
“They feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Imagine going one day without a glass of water! . . . It is an extremely agonizing death.”
On March 23, outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo was growing steadily weaker, her mother, Mary, said to the courts and to anyone who would listen and maybe somehow save her daughter:
“Please stop this cruelty!”
While this cruelty was going on in the hospice, Michael Schiavo’s serpentine lawyer, George Felos, said to one and all: “Terri is stable, peaceful, and calm. . . . She looked beautiful.”
During the March 21 hearing before Federal Judge James D. Whittemore, who was soon to be another accomplice in the dehydration of Terri, the relentless Mr. Felos, anticipating the end of the deathwatch, said to the judge:
“Yes, life is sacred, but so is liberty, your honor, especially in this country.”
It would be useless, but nonetheless, I would like to inform George Felos that, as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said: “The history of liberty is the history of due process”fundamental fairness.
Contrary to what you’ve read and seen in most of the media, due process has been lethally absent in Terri Schiavo’s long merciless journey through the American court system.
“As to legal concerns,” writes William Andersona senior psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a lecturer at Harvard University”a guardian may refuse any medical treatment, but drinking water is not such a procedure. It is not within the power of a guardian to withhold, and not in the power of a rational court to prohibit.”
Ralph Nader agrees. In a statement on March 24, he and Wesley Smith (author of, among other books, Culture of Death: The Assault of Medical Ethics in America) said: “The court is imposing process over justice. After the first trial [before Judge Greer], much evidence has been produced that should allow for a new trialwhich was the point of the hasty federal legislation.
“If this were a death penalty case, this evidence would demand reconsideration. Yet, an innocent, disabled woman is receiving less justice. . . . This case is rife with doubt. Justice demands that Terri be permitted to live.” (Emphasis added.)
But the polls around the country cried out that a considerable majority of Americans wanted her to die without Congress butting in.
A March 20 ABC poll showed that 60 percent of the 501 adults consulted opposed the ultimately unsuccessful federal legislation, and only 35 percent approved. Moreover, 70 percent felt strongly that it was wrong for Congress to get into such personal, private mattersand interfere with what some advocates of euthanasia call “death with dignity.” (So much for the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and equal protection of the laws.)
But, as Cathy Cleaver Ruse of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out:
“The poll [questions] say she’s ‘on life support,’ which is not true [since all she needs is water], and that she has ‘no consciousness,’ which her family and dozens of doctors dispute in sworn affidavits.”
Many readers of this column are pro-choice, pro-abortion rights. But what choice did Terri Schiavo have under our vaunted rule of lawwhich the president is eagerly trying to export to the rest of the world? She had not left a living will or a durable power of attorney, and so could not speak for herself. But the American system of justice would not slake her thirst as she, on television, was dying in front of us all.
What kind of a nation are we becoming? The CIA outsources torturein violation of American and international lawin the name of the freedoms we are fighting to protect against terrorism. And we have watched as this woman, whose only crime is that she is disabled, is tortured to death by judges, all the way to the Supreme Court.
And keep in mind from the Ralph Nader-Wesley Smith report: “The courts . . . have [also] ordered that no attempts be made to provide her water or food by mouth. Terri swallows her own saliva. Spoon feeding is not medical treatment. This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, they have ordered her to be made dead.”
In this country, even condemned serial killers are not executed in this way.
To be liberal and pro-life
NAT HENTOFF, CHAMPION OF ‘INCONVENIENT LIFE’
by Cathryn Donohoe; THE WASHINGTON TIMES
November 6, 1989, Monday, Final Edition, November 6, 1989
NEW YORK — Until 1984, he had not given much thought to abortion, he says. He had accepted the view of all the women he knew, including his wife, that the right to an abortion is part of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy, one that allows her control over her body and, by extension, her life.
Then came the case of Baby Jane Doe. She was a Long Island infant born with spina bifida (a condition in which the spinal cord is unprotected because the spinal column does not close properly before birth) and hydrocephalus (excess fluid in the cranium).
With surgery, spina-bifida babies can grow up to be bright, productive adults who might need braces to walk, Mr. Hentoff insists. Yet Baby Jane’s parents, on their doctors’ advice, had refused both surgery to close her spine and a shunt to drain the fluid from her brain. In resisting the federal government’s attempt to enforce treatment, the parents pleaded privacy.
What first piqued Mr. Hentoff’s curiosity was not so much the case itself but the press coverage. All the papers and the networks were using the same words to say the same thing, he says.
“Whenever I see that kind of story, where everybody agrees, I know there’s something wrong,” he says. “I finally figured out they were listening to the [parents’] lawyer.”
He went after the story, later publishing it in The Atlantic as “The Awful Privacy of Baby Doe.” In running it down, he found himself digging into the notorious, 2-year-old case of the first Infant Doe. That Bloomington, Ind., Down’s syndrome baby died of starvation over six days when his parents, who did not want a retarded child, refused surgery for his deformed esophagus.
Then Mr. Hentoff came across the published reports of experiments in what doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital called “early death as a management option” for infants “considered to have little or no hope of achieving meaningful ‘humanhood.’ “ He talked with happy handicapped adults whose parents could have killed them but didn’t. It changed him.
But as he was fretting over Baby Jane, he says, civil libertarians, liberal congressmen and old ACLU friends were trying to steer him away.
“They were saying, ‘What’s the big fuss about? If the parents had known she was going to come in this way, they would have had an abortion. So why don’t youconsider it a late abortion and go on to something else?’
“Here were liberals, decent people, fully convinced themselves that they were for individual rights and liberties but willing to send into eternity these infants because they were imperfect, inconvenient, costly. I saw the same attitude on the part of the same kinds of people toward abortion, and I thought it was pretty horrifying.”
Mr. Hentoff has a pet phrase he draws from novelist William Burroughs. The moment of truth comes, he says, “when you see the naked lunch at the end of the fork.” Once he heard the phrase, “late abortion,” he knew what was at the end of the fork.
“The ‘slippery slope’ business began to make sense to me then,” he says. “From there it was ineluctable - not just abortion, but euthanasia as well.”
The Washington Times
He’s an honest liberal. He had no use for Slick Willie.
Never heard of him. Dont let the door hit you...
And thankfully Ellington never did. He composed/arranged/recorded some absolute masterpieces in his late period.
Yep, and his writing on free speech is really inspiring. If you get a chance to pick up his book Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee, get it. There’s a great story about an art school trying to silence a pro-life artist that I’ve never forgotten, decades after reading it.
I have always liked Hentoff - - he seems like an honest liberal, and that's a very rare thing. Plus, he isn't mean or smirking in his political commentary.
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