This sample William Safire Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Although he served as a speechwriter and assistant to Richard Nixon, William Safire is best known for political columns and his weekly New York Times Magazine column dealing with English-language usage. His ”On Language” columns have been collected into several books. David Thomas of the Christian Science Monitor states, ”Safire may be the closest we have to a clearinghouse for hearing, seeing, and testing how we’re doing with the language.” Safire has been one of the most influential columnists in America from the 1970s into the twenty-first century.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Early Career and Political Speechwriting
Safire was born William Safir on December 17, 1929, in New York City. After attending Syracuse University for two years, Safire landed a job as a copyboy for Tex McCrary, a New York Herald Tribune reporter, radio show host, and Republican politician. He soon worked his way up and became a foreign correspondent in Europe and the Middle East. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he produced a television show for NBC and then, in 1955, became vice president of the Tex McCrary, Inc. public relations firm. He eventually became president of his own firm, Safire Public Relations, from 1961 to 1968.
Following in his mentor’s footsteps, Safire became involved in Republican politics. He organized an Eisenhower rally in New York City in 1952, helped arrange the ”kitchen debate” between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959, and worked on both Nixon’s 1960 presidential bid and other Republican campaigns in New York.
In 1965 Safire volunteered as a speechwriter for Nixon. After Nixon’s election, he became an advisor and senior speechwriter for the president. When working on Nixon’s reelection campaign, Safire was credited with Agnew’s well-known phrase calling the liberal media ”nattering nabobs of negativism.” After the election, Safire accepted an offer of a column from the New York Times and left the White House in 1973.
The Watergate Scandal
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested after breaking into the Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. At first, connections between the burglary and the Nixon administration were murky, and Nixon was easily reelected against Senator George McGovern that year. However, it was later discovered that the burglars’ actions were carried out under the orders of the Committee to Reelect the President and involved key officials in Nixon’s administration. In 1974, Nixon’s own involvement in the break-in cover-up became clear, and he resigned from office.
As the scandal unfolded, Safire was working on a memoir of his time in the Nixon administration; in fact, he was finishing the book when Nixon resigned. Safire’s account of Nixon was fairly positive. Given the political climate, publisher William Morrow demanded the royalty advance on the book back from Safire. Eventually, the book was published by Doubleday, but it received mixed reviews, in large part because of Safire’s sympathetic view of Nixon.
Because of Safire’s political leanings— he was a self-described conservative and libertarian who believed ”the less government the better”—his being hired at the New York Times was met with scorn by many at the newspaper. However, his twice-a-week political column and weekly column ”On Language” subsequently won the admiration of almost all naysayers.
Safire also explored political themes in several novels, including Full Disclosure (1977), which tells the story of a president in danger of losing his office; Freedom (1987), a novel about Abraham Lincoln’s presidency; Sleeper Spy (1995), a political thriller; and Scandalmonger (2000). Scandalmonger was widely read as a response to the scandals of the Clinton administration. President Clinton’s sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky came to light during the investigation of a legal case filed by another woman, Paula Jones, who claimed the president had sexually harassed her. Under oath, Clinton denied having sexual contact with Lewinsky, a claim later disproved by Lewinsky’s testimony and DNA evidence. While many believed that the affair was Clinton’s personal business, Clinton was impeached in 1999. The Senate cleared him but he was subsequently cited for contempt of court. Scandalmonger examined the role of the media in bringing morally questionable actions of presidents to light. It detailed the career of a journalist who first broke the story of Alexander Hamilton’s extramarital affair in order to further Thomas Jefferson’s career and just a few years later broke the story of Jefferson’s affair with his slave Sally Hemings.
Safire published several collections of his New York Times Magazine columns in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including Spread the Word (1999), No Uncertain Terms: More Writing from the Popular ”On Language” Column in the New York Times Magazine (2003), and The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular ”On Language” Column in the New York Times Magazine (2004). As of 2008, Safire no longer wrote political columns, but he continued to write ”On Language.”
Works in Literary Context
Safire’s political perspective informed much of his work, be it his political columns, novels, or work on the English language. While he was a fierce defender of Nixon, he did not hesitate to criticize those who he believed had been unethical. His wit, intelligence, and willingness to criticize political figures on both the left and the right won him the respect of many in the media.
Safire wrote several novels with politics as a central theme. His longest and perhaps most important work of fiction was Freedom (1987). The story begins with the Emancipation Proclamation and follows President Abraham Lincoln during the early years of the American Civil War. The Lincoln portrayed by Safire was beset by many human failings, including depression and anxiety. However, Safire concluded in an interview with U.S. News & World Report that Lincoln had in fact been the country’s greatest president, even ”when you see his drawbacks and his failures and his shortcomings.” Freedom was widely praised and quite popular, but some reviewers faulted Safire for including almost no African-American perspective in his work. Others drew parallels between Safire’s flawed Lincoln and Safire’s defense of Richard Nixon.
Published in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Safire’s novel Scandalmonger dealt with the use of politics to enhance a journalist’s fame. A Publishers Weekly reviewer connects the work with then-current political events: ”It’s fascinating to learn that in the days of the founding fathers, politicians were just as licentious and newspapermen even more scurrilous than some players in contemporary media.”
The Wonders of the English Language
Safire was one of the most influential columnists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. His columns have been reprinted in several books. His first collection, On Language, explores word origins, correct and incorrect language usage, and gives examples of responses from his readers. In subsequent collections, Safire concentrated on words and phrases used in politics, development of slang, misuse of words, and the evolutions of the meanings of words over time. Safire emphasized in all his work that language should never be taken at face value. In The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time, Safire tackles how words and phrases are used rhetorically by politicians to convey political ideas. He continued this theme in The Definitive Guide to the New Language of Politics, which defines words and phrases coined or used by presidents, such as ”evil empire,” ”read my lips,” ”voodoo economics,” and “perestroika.”
Works in Critical Context
While critics often do not agree with Safire’s political conclusions, many agree that his works—especially his non-fiction works—are extensively researched and well written. Bob Trimble writes in the Dallas Morning News, ”If you are a fan of language or worried about your grammar, William Safire is your touchstone, whatever your political persuasion.”
Safire’s longest book, the novel Freedom (1987), met with much critical acclaim as well as popular success. Reviewers agreed the book had been well researched. However, some reviewers faulted Safire for essentially ignoring the African American perspective on the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War. C. Vann Woodward notes that the whole book contains ”only four or five pages on blacks, and most of that is what whites said or did about them, not what they said and did themselves.”
Collections of Language Columns
Safire’s collections of his On Language” columns, on the other hand, have met with unqualified praise. As one observer notes, Safire earned respect for his sharp mind and his expert word play” despite being a conservative columnist at a fairly liberal newspaper. Reviewers lauded Safire for doing much more than examining the historical origins of words and phrases. In fact, writes an anonymous reviewer for Publishers Weekly, He does more than elucidate the origins of slang or correct common grammatical mistakes: he alerts readers to the rhetorical maneuvers of our politicians and public figures as only a former speech-writer can.”
- Bourgoin, Suzanne M., ed. Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
- ”William Safire (1929-).” Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 10. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979, pp. 446-47.
- Batchelor, John Calvin. Review of Freedom. Tribune Books (August 9, 1987): 1.
- Sanoff, Alvin P. ”A Modern Vote for Abraham Lincoln.” U.S. News & World Report (August 24, 1987).
- Trimble, Bob. Review of No Uncertain Terms. Dallas Morning News (July 24, 2003).
- Woodward, C. Vann. Review of Freedom. New York Review of Books (September 24, 1987): 23.
- ”Columnist Biography: William Safire.” New York Times Online. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http:// www.nytimes.com/ref/opinion/SAFIRE-BIO. html.
- ”William Safire, Bill Moyers Discuss Post-Government Journalism.” The U.S. Department of State Web site. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http:// www.america.gov/st/freepress-english/2008/July/ 200807011307191xeneerg3.944033e-02.html.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.