Victor S. Navasky, a Leading Liberal Voice in Journalism, Dies at 90

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Witty and contrarian, helium was the longtime exertion and aboriginal steadfast of The Nation and wrote an acclaimed publication astir the Hollywood blacklisting era.

In a achromatic  and achromatic  photo, a balding, bespectacled Mr. Navasky, successful  a loosened achromatic  necktie  and rolled-up sleeves, astatine  his desk, which is strewn with books, papers and a transcript  of The Nation.
Victor S. Navasky successful 1991, erstwhile helium was exertion of The Nation, America’s oldest play magazine. He encouraged idiosyncratic writers and introduced a droll sensibility to the magazine.Credit...William E. Sauro/The New York Times

Jan. 24, 2023, 11:55 a.m. ET

Victor S. Navasky, a witty and contrarian writer who for 27 years arsenic either exertion oregon steadfast commanded The Nation, the left-leaning mag that is America’s oldest weekly, and who besides wrote the publication “Naming Names,” a breakthrough chronicle of the Hollywood blacklisting era, died connected Monday successful Manhattan. He was 90.

His death, successful a hospital, was caused by pneumonia, his son, Bruno, said. Mr. Navasky had homes connected the Upper West Side of Manhattan and successful Hillsdale, N.Y.

The Nation, based successful New York, was founded successful 1865 by abolitionists and had agelong been an influential dependable for civilian rights, escaped expression, progressive labour authorities and disapproval of the Vietnam War. When helium was named exertion successful 1978, Mr. Navasky introduced a droll sensibility that leavened the magazine’s sometimes too-earnest prose.

In summation to adopting an irreverent code successful his ain articles, helium encouraged idiosyncratic writers similar Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens and Calvin Trillin, who successful his “Uncivil Liberties” file referred to his brag arsenic “the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky.”

Mr. Navasky besides provided a forum for feminist voices, similar those of Katha Pollitt and Katrina vanden Heuvel, who succeeded him arsenic exertion successful 1995 erstwhile helium led a radical of investors successful buying the mag and became its publisher. He stepped down arsenic steadfast successful 2005, succeeded by Ms. vanden Heuvel.

Mr. Navasky offered a consciousness of his editorial attack successful an interrogation with The Brooklyn Rail successful 2002.

“I deliberation it was Walter Cronkite who utilized to extremity his nightly newscasts by saying, ‘That’s the mode it is.’ Well, I wanted to enactment retired a mag which would say: ‘That’s not the mode it is astatine all. Let’s instrumentality different look.’”

Circulation roseate from 20,000 erstwhile Mr. Navasky took the editorial helm to 132,000, not including 15,000 online subscriptions, successful 2019, erstwhile Ms. vanden Heuvel stepped down arsenic editor (though she remained the publisher). But specified numbers understate the magazine’s power connected wide policymakers — academics, pundits, progressive activists, authorities officials and legislature unit members — radical who were “interested successful ideas,” arsenic Mr. Navasky said.

He was known for his ardent steadiness arsenic a Cold War warrior. He wrote pieces defending Alger Hiss, a precocious State Department authoritative successful the 1930s, against charges that helium had been a Soviet spy, and assailing the government’s handling of the prosecution and sentencing of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were besides charged with spying for the Soviets and were executed.

As caller revelations implicit the decades seemed to backmost up charges successful some cases, Mr. Navasky questioned the reliability of the evidence, and astatine his decease the guilt of Alger Hiss and, astatine least, Ethel Rosenberg was inactive unfastened to question.

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Mr. Navasky successful 1962, erstwhile helium was publishing a satirical journal, Monocle, successful New York City aft starting it with a person astatine Yale Law School. In 1 nonfiction it imagined President Dwight D. Eisenhower giving the Gettysburg Address. Credit...Ben Martin/Associated Press

Mr. Navasky’s wry iconoclasm started early. While astatine Yale Law School, helium and a person founded a satirical magazine, Monocle, and a fewer years aboriginal tried to marque a spell of publishing it successful New York City arsenic a free-standing “leisurely quarterly,” which Mr. Navasky said meant it came retired doubly a year.

An aboriginal variation gave readers a sensation of its attack to humor. It featured a mentation of the Gettysburg code arsenic orated by the president astatine the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It began: “I haven’t checked these figures yet, but 87 years ago, I deliberation it was …”

Distributed by Simon and Schuster, the mag treaded h2o for fractional a decade, drafting specified writers arsenic Nora Ephron, Sidney Zion, C.D.B. Bryan, Ralph Nader, Dan Greenburg and Marvin Kitman. During the 1963 paper onslaught successful New York City, Monocle enactment retired parody issues of The New York Post and The Daily News, called The Pest and The Daily Noose.

Monocle made an occasional large splash with its work of the publication “Report From Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace” (1966), a satire of think-tank deliberation by Leonard Lewin. Predicting that the American system would illness if preparations for warfare should end, the publication was taken earnestly by galore contempt statements by its creators that it was a hoax; its afterlife among conspiracy theorists continues.

For a clip aft Monocle’s demise, Mr. Navasky turned to penning well-reported and thoughtful, often provocative mag articles. For The New York Times Magazine, helium profiled Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, erstwhile Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas and the defence lawyer William Kunstler.

Several of his pieces had a Monocle-like bemusement to them, similar his representation of the clubby satellite of New York intellectuals, adjacent if by immoderate measures helium would person acceptable close in.

“That you whitethorn ne'er person heard of a bulk of these radical is not surprising,” helium wrote, “because members of this constitution traditionally speech lone to each different and people successful journals which are prepared chiefly for each other’s consumption.”

Mr. Navasky went connected to people 2 wide praised works of history. The columnist Joseph Kraft called Mr. Navasky’s “Kennedy Justice,” a 1971 survey of the Justice Department nether Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, “probably the champion publication ever done connected the workings of a large section of American government.”

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Mr. Navasky’s chronicle of the Hollywood blacklisting epoch won a 1982 National Book Award.

Almost a decennary later, Mr. Navasky published “Naming Names” (1980), considered by galore the definitive relationship of the Hollywood blacklisting era. The publication focused connected the ex-Communist writers, directors and producers who testified earlier the House Un-American Activities Committee and chose to pass connected colleagues.

Critics praised the publication for its fairness and its compassion for radical grappling with wrenching choices. However, immoderate blimpish critics said it was much inclined to denigrate the alleged informers, similar the novelist Budd Schulberg and the manager Elia Kazan, whose tortured explanations for their decisions Mr. Navasky recovered illogical.

“His sympathies are intelligibly with those who refused to sanction names,” Richard Sennett wrote in The New York Times Book Review. “But helium refuses to prejudge the informers, to dainty them simply arsenic cowards oregon monsters.”

The publication received the National Book Award successful 1982 for wide nonfiction-paperback.

Victor Saul Navasky was calved connected July 5, 1932, connected the Upper West Side, the 2nd kid of Macy and Esther (Goldberg) Navasky. His begetter was the portion proprietor of a covering manufacturing business, and his parent was her husband’s caput and bookkeeper.

Victor attended the Rudolph Steiner School, past the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elizabeth Irwin High School successful Greenwich Village, some fashionable with families connected the bohemian left. He received a bachelor’s grade successful 1954 from Swarthmore College and served 2 years successful the Army, moving arsenic a medic extracurricular Anchorage and penning for and editing his regimental newsletter. Afterward, helium attended Yale Law School connected the G.I. Bill, graduating successful 1959.

He joined Annie Strongin, a stockbroker, successful 1966. In summation to his son, she survives him, on with 2 daughters, Miri and Jenny Navasky, and 5 grandchildren.

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Mr. Navasky successful 2009 astatine his location successful Hillsdale, N.Y. He and friends bought a 130-acre spot determination successful 1971 and divvied it up among 13 radical and their families. Credit...Chris Ramirez for The New York Times

Mr. Navasky joined The Times successful 1970 arsenic a manuscript exertion and unit writer for The Times Magazine and was a predominant publication reviewer. His admiring review of a postulation of articles by The New Yorker writer and exertion Roger Angell was written successful the “we” dependable past utilized past for immoderate of the magazine’s chatty Talk of the Town pieces. It closed with a enactment astir “a woman we know” who would beryllium delighted with a acquisition of the publication and is “fully susceptible of debating however galore Angells tin creation connected the caput of a pin.”

Shortly earlier helium near the insubstantial successful 1972, Mr. Navasky began penning “In Cold Print,” a monthly file connected the publishing satellite for The Times Book Review. It appeared until 1976.

He took an uncharacteristic vocation detour successful 1974, managing the quixotic Democratic run of erstwhile U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to unseat New York’s fashionable Sen. Jacob K. Javits, a Republican. When Mr. Navasky volunteered that helium had nary acquisition successful this benignant of work, Mr. Clark responded, “That makes 2 of us.’’

Mr. Clark was candid to a fault, endorsing the instauration of a Palestinian authorities successful “co-union with Jordan” astatine a clip erstwhile that presumption would outgo him Jewish voters, and defending a travel helium took to Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capital, astatine the tallness of the Vietnam War. Mr. Navasky did not effort to dissuade him from taking specified positions, and Senator Javits won handily contempt an anti-Republican tide that twelvemonth spurred by the Watergate scandal.

After stepping down successful 2005 to go The Nation’s steadfast emeritus, Mr. Navasky taught mag penning and editing astatine the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, directed its George T. Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism and chaired The Columbia Journalism Review. The past presumption drew complaints from blimpish media that helium was a partisan holding a enactment presumption with a watchdog diary that was expected to impartially measure the prime and morals of newspapers, magazines and different media.

Mr. Navasky applied his leftist outlook successful astatine slightest 1 country of his idiosyncratic beingness — his abrogation home, successful Hillsdale, successful Columbia County adjacent the Connecticut border. In 1971, he, a person and their wives purchased a 130-acre spot determination that they divvied up among 13 radical and their families — including a painter, a poet, a violinist, an astrophysicist, an N.A.A.C.P. lawyer, a psychotherapist and respective writers.

It seemed to a Times newsman describing the statement in a 2009 nonfiction the equivalent of a 1960s commune, minus the drugs and radical sex. Ever the autarkic thinker, Mr. Navasky rejected that description.

“Really,” helium said, “it’s much of a middle-class convenience than a ’60s commune.” It was also, helium added, “weirdly nonpolitical.”

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a longtime publication professional for The Times who died successful 2018, and Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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