Nat Hentoff on His Life in Journalism, Social History, Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements (1997)





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Published on Feb 11, 2014

Nathan Irving "Nat" Hentoff (born June 10, 1925) is an American historian, novelist, jazz and country music critic, and syndicated columnist for United Media and writes regularly on jazz and country music for The Wall Street Journal.

Hentoff was formerly a columnist for Down Beat, The Village Voice, JazzTimes, Legal Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Progressive, Editor & Publisher and Free Inquiry. He was a staff writer for The New Yorker, and his writing has also been published in the New York Times, Jewish World Review, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Commonweal and in the Italian Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo.

Hentoff is known as a civil libertarian, free speech activist, anti-death penalty advocate, anti-abortion advocate. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and is a supporter of Israel.
While once a longtime supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hentoff has become a vocal critic of the organization for its advocacy of government-enforced university and workplace speech codes.[13] He serves on the board of advisors for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, another civil liberties group. Hentoff's book, Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee, outlines his views on free speech and excoriates those whom he feels favor censorship in any form.
Hentoff was critical of Bush Administration policies such as the Patriot Act and other civil liberties implications of the recent push for homeland security. He was also strongly critical of Clinton Administration policies such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
In March and April 2003 Saddam Hussein was deposed by a U.S.-led invasion, launching the ongoing Iraq war. In summer 2003, Hentoff wrote a column for the Washington Times in which he supported Tony Blair's humanitarian justifications for the war. He also criticized the Democratic Party for casting doubt on President Bush's pre-war assertions about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in an election year.
An ardent critic of the Bush administration's expansion of presidential power, Hentoff in 2008 called for the new president to deal with the "noxious residue of the Bush-Cheney war against terrorism". Among the national security casualties have been, according to Hentoff, "survivors, if they can be found, of CIA secret prisons ("black sites"); victims of CIA kidnapping renditions; and American citizens locked up indefinitely as "unlawful enemy combatants".[14] He has advocated prosecuting members of the Bush administration, including lawyer John Yoo, for war crimes.[15]
Hentoff holds what mainstream media may describe as idiosyncratic views. He espouses generally liberal views on domestic policy and civil liberties, but in the 1980s, he began articulating more socially conservative positions—opposed to abortion, voluntary euthanasia, and the selective medical treatment of severely disabled infants. Hentoff argued that a consistent life ethic should be the viewpoint of a genuine civil libertarian, arguing that all human rights are at risk when the rights of any one group of people are diminished, that human rights are interconnected, and people deny others' human rights at their own peril.[16] After he "came out" as an opponent of abortion, several of his colleagues at The Village Voice stopped speaking to him.
Hentoff has sardonically described himself as "a member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-Necked Jewish Atheists".[4][17]
Hentoff vigorously criticized the judicial gag order involved in Fistgate.[18]
In an April 2008 column, Hentoff stated that while he had been prepared to enthusiastically support Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, his view changed after looking into Obama's voting record on abortion. During President Obama's first year, Hentoff praised him for ending policies of CIA renditions, but has criticized him for failing to fully end George W. Bush's practice of state torture of prisoners.


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