Victor Navasky, historian and Nation editor, dies at 90

Jan 23, 2023, 8:09 PM | Updated: Jan 24, 2023, 10:34 am

NEW YORK (AP) — Victor Navasky, an award-winning author and journalist who for years presided over the liberal weekly The Nation and wrote influential books on the anti-Communist blacklist and Robert F. Kennedy’s justice department, has died at age 90.

Navasky’s death was confirmed Tuesday by a spokesperson at The Nation, who did not immediately have additional details. The magazine’s publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, tweeted that Navasky had changed her life and thousands of others’. Those he edited included such prominent liberals as David Corn, Eric Alterman and Katha Pollitt.

“Victor was a true believer in the power of independent media — quietly fierce in his convictions, kind and generous to so very many,” vanden Heuvel wrote.

A bearded man with a professorial presence and diplomatic manner, Navasky was long a familiar name and face in the literary and political scene — as an editor and publishing columnist for The New York Times, as founder of the satirical magazine Monocle and, from 1978 to 2005, as editor and then publisher of The Nation.

Navasky also was known for his books on political and cultural history. “Naming Names,” winner of a National Book Award in 1982, was a lengthy account of the Cold War and blacklisting of alleged Communists that was praised as thorough and fair-minded. He called the book a “moral detective story” and drew upon interviews with actor Lee J. Cobb, screenwriter Budd Schulberg and others who informed on their peers, dramatizing not just the attacks from Sen. Joseph McCarthy and other Republicans, but the conflicts among liberals over how to respond.

A decade earlier, Navasky wrote “Kennedy Justice,” which offered some of the first sustained liberal analysis of Kennedy’s brief time as attorney general, his recruitment of such gifted underlings as future Supreme Court Justice Byron White and Nicholas Katzenbach and his tiring battle to control FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Some scholars thought Navasky romanticized Kennedy, although the author did chastise Kennedy for his record of appointing segregationist judges to the federal courts.

“No aspect of Robert Kennedy’s Attorney Generalship is more vulnerable to criticism,” he wrote. “For it was a blatant contradiction for the Kennedys to forego civil rights legislation and executive action in favor of litigation and at the same time appoint as lifetime litigation-overseers men dedicated to frustrating that litigation.”

In recent years, Navasky was publisher emeritus of the Nation and an occasional contributor. He also taught journalism at Columbia University, chaired the Columbia Journalism Review and served on the board of numerous organizations, including the Authors Guild and the Committee to Protect Journalists. A book on political cartoons, “The Art of Controversy,” came out in 2013.

Navasky married Anne Strongin in 1966. They had three children.

A native of New York, Navasky was liberal from the time he knew what the word meant. He went to grade school in Greenwich Village and would speak of classmates whose parents were unemployed because of their politics. For high school, he attended the Little Red School House, which was inspired in part by the progressive educational theories of John Dewey.

“We had one Marxist history teacher who taught a straight Marxist view of history,” Navasky told The Guardian in 2005. “I remember he once asked where diamonds got their value. Someone said, ‘because they’re beautiful.’ He said, ‘no, no.’ Someone else said, ‘supply and demand.’ He said, ‘no.’ Someone else said, ‘from the sweat of the workers in the mines!’ And he said ‘right!'”

He majored in political science at Swarthmore College, where he edited the student newspaper, and received a graduate degree from Yale Law School. At Yale, he helped start Monocle, which ran from 1959 to 1965 and was credited as a predecessor to the absurdist, topical humor of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. One Monocle contributor, Nora Ephron, would remember Navasky as a man “who knew important people, and he knew people he made you think were important simply because he knew them.”

Navasky wrote a monthly column on publishing for The New York Times and managed an unsuccessful Senate campaign by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. In 1977, he was hired to edit The Nation, a century-old publication often cash poor, but rich in dissension.

Columnists such as Alexander Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens were as likely to attack each other as to take on conservatives. The genial Navasky himself was often criticized, whether for being too being cheap with his employees (“The wily and parsimonious Victor Navasky,” his friend and Nation contributor Calvin Trillin called him) or for being too nice.

“In fact the only thing I don’t like about Victor is the fact that everybody likes him,” Hitchens, who quit The Nation in 2002, once said. “I think he should have made some more enemies by now.”

But circulation more than tripled during his time and Navasky and The Nation did get some people good and angry in 1979 when the magazine obtained an early copy of former President Gerald Ford’s memoir and printed a long story that included excerpts. In a legal battle still influential in copyright cases, publisher Harper & Row sued for infringement and prevailed before the Supreme Court.

The case had a moment of deep irony: Before the Supreme Court decision, an appeals court in New York had sided with The Nation. The decision was written by Judge Irving Kaufman, who decades earlier had enraged Navasky and others on the left by imposing the death penalty on convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

In 2005, Navasky won the George K. Polk Book Award for “A Matter of Opinion,” a memoir and a passionate defense of free expression.

“I was, I guess, what would be called a left liberal, although I never thought of myself as all that left,” Navasky wrote in his memoir. “I believed in civil rights and civil liberties, I favored racial integration, I thought responsibility for the international tensions of the cold war was equally distributed between the United States and the U.S.S.R.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in Nov. 2022, a...
Associated Press

News groups ask Idaho Supreme Court to reject University slayer gag order

Thirty news organizations have asked the Idaho Supreme Court to overturn a gag order in a case against a man accused of stabbing four students to death.
22 hours ago
FILE - The company logo highlights the grille of a 2021 Tacoma pickup truck on display in the Toyot...
Associated Press

Toyota reports 8% drop in Oct-Dec profit, keeps forecast

TOKYO (AP) — Toyota reported an 8.1% drop in fiscal third quarter profit Thursday, as a global shortage of computer chips and soaring raw material costs battering the auto industry hit Japan’s top automaker. Toyota Motor Corp.’s October-December profit totaled 727.9 billion yen ($5.6 billion), down from 791.7 billion yen the previous year. The company […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Wednesday’s Scores

BOYS PREP BASKETBALL= District Tournament= Class 1A District 2= King’s 76, Summit Sierra 37 Northwest School 50, Bear Creek School 34 Overlake School 69, Eastside Prep 32 Seattle Academy 69, Sultan 59 Class 1A District 7= Colville 48, Newport 43 Deer Park 69, Riverside 45 Class 1B District 4= Columbia Adventist Academy 52, Pe Ell […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Wednesday’s Scores

GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL= District Tournament= Class 1A District 1= Lynden Christian 70, Meridian 36 Nooksack Valley 98, Blaine 21 Class 1B District 2= Evergreen Lutheran 29, Crosspoint Academy 27 Puget Sound Adventist 49, Pope John Paul II 21 Sound Christian 45, Northwest Yeshiva 30 Class 1B District 7= Inchelium 60, Wilbur-Creston 39 Odessa 58, Curlew […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman takes the stage at an election night party in Pittsburg...
Associated Press

Sen. John Fetterman hospitalized after feeling lightheaded

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Democrat who suffered a stroke during his campaign last year, was hospitalized Wednesday night after feeling lightheaded while attending a Senate Democratic retreat, his office said. Initial tests at George Washington University Hospital did not show evidence of a new stroke, Fetterman’s communications director, Joe Calvello, […]
22 hours ago
People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Death toll in Turkey, Syria earthquake surpasses 15,000

GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) — The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria rose to more than 15,000 as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of collapsed homes in the stricken zone, Turkey’s disaster management agency said Thursday. The agency said 12,391 people had been confirmed killed in Turkey after Monday’s […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Victor Navasky, historian and Nation editor, dies at 90