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William Safire: wide-ranging columnist with a gift for words

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William Safire, whose weekly meditation on language for the New York Times Magazine was avidly followed by thousands of readers and who was considered one of the finest writers of his generation, died Tuesday.

Mr. Safire’s career as a writer spanned decades, took numerous forms, and won major accolades. He began as a reporter for newspapers and television. In 1973 he became a conservative columnist for the New York Times, and in 1979 he established the “On Language” column for the paper’s magazine. In between he worked as a public relations executive and speechwriter for President Richard Nixon.

During his prolific career, he wrote not only columns, but also novels as well as a political dictionary. His work has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Like his career, Safire’s columns covered wide ground and allowed him to peer into various dimensions of American life. In its appreciation of Safire, the Wall Street Journal noted:

Unlike many columnists, Safire did not soar at 35,000 feet bemoaning what fools these mortals be. He did his own reporting, digging up stories and anecdotes that embarrassed politicians who deserved to be embarrassed.

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