'NY Times' Editorial Page Editor: Safire a 'Journalist Fully'

By: Joe Strupp William Safire, the former New York Times columnist who died Sunday at 79, was a "huge advocate of the First Amendment" and "the most visibly and dramatically conservative columnist" at the paper, according to Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.

Rosenthal, who worked with Safire while serving as deputy editorial page editor between 2003 and 2007, said coming to the Times in 1973 after working in the Nixon Administration was tough on Safire in the beginning.

"A lot of people were unhappy when he came to the Times," Rosenthal recalls. "He was associated with Nixon, he was with the government, he was conservative."

But Rosenthal said he earned his place and put up with initial, and some ongoing, opposition because he was direct, well-spoken and knew his facts. "He made the transition from government official to journalist fully," he said. "He was a real conservative."

Rosenthal credited Safire, who retired in 2005, with going against the Republican party and Republican leaders when he disagreed with their actions: "When the Bush Administration started violating people's rights, he was outraged. It was an intense time because the people who should have been most outraged about Abu Ghraib and wiretapping were not."

Safire also had a great sense of humor, Rosenthal recalled: "He used to begin every conversation with me by saying, 'How's life on the hard left?'"

Rosenthal, who also worked with Safire during his time in the Times Washington, D.C., bureau, noted today's Yom Kippur holiday, citing Safire's annual "Break-Fast" party each year. "He gave great parties," he said.

But most of all, Rosenthal said the late columnist would be remembered for a body of work that spanned columns, books and intellect: "He was an amazing Washington institution."


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