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

Victor S. Navasky, a witty and contrarian journalist who for 27 years as either editor or publisher commanded the long-running left-leaning magazine The Nation, and who also wrote the book “Naming Names,” a breakthrough chronicle of the Hollywood blacklisting era, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 90….

One of America’s oldest publications, The Nation, based in New York, was founded in 1865 as a weekly (it now comes out biweekly) by abolitionists and had long been an influential voice for civil rights, free expression, progressive labor legislation and criticism of the Vietnam War. When he was named editor in 1978, Mr. Navasky introduced a droll sensibility that leavened the magazine’s sometimes too-earnest prose….

Mr. Navasky also provided a forum for feminist voices, like those of Katha Pollitt and Katrina vanden Heuvel, who succeeded him as editor in 1995 when he led a group of investors in buying the magazine and became its publisher. He stepped down as publisher in 2005, succeeded by Ms. vanden Heuvel.

Mr. Navasky offered a sense of his editorial approach in an interview with The Brooklyn Rail in 2002.

“I think it was Walter Cronkite who used to end his nightly newscasts by saying, ‘That’s the way it is.’ Well, I wanted to put out a magazine which would say: ‘That’s not the way it is at all. Let’s take another look….’”

Mr. Navasky’s wry iconoclasm started early. While at Yale Law School, he and a friend founded a satirical magazine, Monocle, and a few years later tried to make a go of publishing it in New York City as a free-standing “leisurely quarterly,” which Mr. Navasky said meant it came out twice a year….

An early edition gave readers a taste of its approach to humor. It featured a version of the Gettysburg address as orated by the president at the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It began: “I haven’t checked these figures yet, but 87 years ago, I think it was …”

Several of his pieces had a Monocle-like wryness to them, like his portrait of the clubby world of New York intellectuals, even if by some measures he would have fit right in.

“That you may never have heard of a majority of these people is not surprising,” he wrote, “because members of this establishment traditionally talk only to each other and publish in journals which are prepared primarily for each other’s consumption.”

Mr. Navasky went on to publish two widely praised works of history. The columnist Joseph Kraft called Mr. Navasky’s “Kennedy Justice,” a 1971 study of the Justice Department under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, “probably the best book ever done on the workings of a great department of American government…”

Almost a decade later, Mr. Navasky published “Naming Names” (1980), considered by many the definitive account of the Hollywood blacklisting era. The book focused on the ex-Communist writers, directors and producers who testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and chose to inform on colleagues.

Critics praised the book for its fairness and its compassion for people grappling with wrenching choices.

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