Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

January 5, 2009

The Shame of the Village Voice: Somebody Bring Back Hentoff!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:25 am

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.


  1. Nat Hentoff has long been a thorn in the side of the leftist community because of his pro-life position. In other words, he violated perhaps their number one doctrine which allows for no dissent. Hentoff’s apparent last Village Voice column highlights my own problems with his mindset. I have no hesitation agreeing that we should be wary of the government’s ability to monitor our communications. This is why I advocate a strong checks and balances to curtail abuses. However, Hentoff fails to address this unavoidable question: is there truly a legitimate threat? Are the Islamic terrorists existentially committed to our destruction? Please note that Hentoff conveniently sidesteps this issue. It does not merit even one sentence.

    Comment by David Thomson — January 5, 2009 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

  2. Do you have a contact for Hentoff? We should give him a blog. He’d be great.

    Comment by Roger L Simon — January 5, 2009 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  3. The father of us all

    Comment by charlie finch — January 5, 2009 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  4. The Voice was once an indispensable publication, but those days are long gone. One of the things that made it valuable was that so many of its regular contributors were so disputatious– it was as famous for its feuds as it was for its writing.

    The internet, and particularly blogs, can’t reproduce that effect. Hentoff has been an important voice, but a big part of what made him so effective is that he appeared in a context where his opinions were often at odds with the opinions of others. There really aren’t any forums like that any more, and I miss them.

    The Voice has apparently determined that it is henceforth to be defined by its classifieds. A once great publication is now a pennysaver, and that’s a shame. I’m glad Norman Mailer didn’t live to see it.

    Comment by Bill Altreuter — January 6, 2009 @ 8:14 am | Reply

  5. The Voice also fired quirky fashion columnist Lynn Yeager

    Comment by charlie finch — January 6, 2009 @ 10:56 am | Reply

  6. Well, the Voice had the good sense to follow the example of the NY Observer that canned their resident crank Ron Rosenbaum.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — January 6, 2009 @ 11:03 am | Reply

  7. Will the Village Voice and other so-called alternative newspapers be around much longer? These freebies have apparently prospered because of the sexually salacious ads placed in their back pages. It is rumored that many of these advertisers of massage parlors and 900 line phone calls are abandoning the dead tree publications for the Internet. Can the Village Voice even survive another year?

    Comment by David Thomson — January 7, 2009 @ 8:33 am | Reply

  8. Well, I am sure there are people looking to read sex advice columns “validating” their desire to [bleep] goats (or whatever the latest perversion du jour is). But are they willing to PAY for a rag printing that sort of typical “alternative weekly” stuff when they can get it for free on the Internet?

    And who will pay to place a classified ad looking for a transgender foursome when they can do the same for free on

    Maybe if occasionally these tiresome rags did something truly revolutionary (like, you know, gather and print hard news) they would still be relevant. Even so their business model would be shaky.

    As for Nat Hentoff: of course, if your newspaper is f*cked you dismiss just about the only redeeming feature it’s got left. Here’s to hoping the WSJ will soon offer him column space (“contrarian column” or something)…

    Comment by Former Belgian — January 11, 2009 @ 11:01 am | Reply

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