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A Civil Liberties Icon Is Let Go

Hentoff_bio Nat Hentoff is not a lawyer. But in five decades as a columnist for The Village Voice, he has done more to uphold and advance civil liberties than an army of lawyers. Thus, it is sad to hear the news, as reported yesterday by the New York Times, that after 50 years as a columnist for the Voice, Hentoff, 83, is losing his job. Here is how the Times announced it:

The troubled Village Voice laid off three employees Tuesday, including Nat Hentoff, the prominent columnist who has worked for the paper since 1958, contributing opinionated columns about jazz, civil liberties and politics.

Hentoff's writing about legal affairs has always been at once biting and straight down the middle. In 1980, the American Bar Association honored him with its Silver Gavel Award for articles he wrote detailing abuses of civil rights and liberties at a correctional facility and mental institution in New York and for his in-depth analysis of the secrecy provisions of the Atomic Energy Act. His most recent column talks about police abuses of students in New York City public schools.

Known as much for his writing about jazz as about civil rights, Hentoff's layoff is unlikely to silence his voice. He is the author of some 30 books of nonfiction and fiction, including the 1993 book, "Free Speech for Me -- But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other." According to the New York Times, he will continue to write a weekly column for the United Media syndicate and contribute pieces to The Wall Street Journal. Even at age 83, he told the Times, "I've never been more productive." Still, Hentoff's layoff is unwelcome news to end the year -- news that perhaps reflects the end of an era.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 31, 2008 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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