It’s ironic that the very week in which the Voice (where I began as a writer) gets some long-overdue respect from a smart essay by Louis Menand in The New Yorker, the current management fires the last surviving treasure of its Golden Age, one of the great voices in American journalism, Nat Hentoff. Yes, the virtually empty shell of the great paper (I still like Musto and Tom Robbins and J. Hoberman) let the tireless defender of civil liberties go over New Year’s.
I’m surprised there hasn’t been more outrage, but by doing their dirty work in the shadows they’ve, temporarily I hope, avoided the obloquy they deserve for this misbegotten treatment of one of their few remaining reasons for existence.
I hope the Voice either realizes its error and reverses its decision–I call on all writers who think of themselves as supporters of civil liberties to assail the Voice and shame it into reversal, or forever hold your peace on the subject, because when push came to shove you were silent. I hope some liberal publication picks him up pronto and leaves the Voice looking like the fraud of an “alternative” paper it has now declared itself to be. No one else has meant more to those of us who believe in the Bill of Rights over the years than Hentoff. We all owe him a vast debt for spotlighting violations of our rights–he was a one-man ACLU–as he does in what was apparently his last column. I owe him personal debt since he was the person who got me my first writing job by bringing me to the attention of Dan Wolf at the Voice. But it means nothing compared to what he’s done for us all.
So all hail Hentoff, and let’s hope it’s not farewell.