Victor Navasky '54 H'84, a witty and contrarian journalist who for 27 years as either editor or publisher commanded the long-running left-leaning magazine The Nation, and who also wrote the book Naming Names, a breakthrough chronicle of the Hollywood blacklisting era, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 90.
Navasky graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College in 1954 with a degree in political science and international relations. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the College in 1984.
One of America’s oldest publications, The Nation, based in New York, was founded in 1865 as a weekly by abolitionists and had long been an influential voice for civil rights, free expression, progressive labor legislation and criticism of the Vietnam War. When he was named editor in 1978, Navasky introduced a droll sensibility that leavened the magazine’s sometimes too-earnest prose.
Navasky, who delivered the 2009 Thomas B. McCabe Lecture, offered a sense of his editorial approach in an interview with The Brooklyn Rail in 2002.
“I think it was Walter Cronkite who used to end his nightly newscasts by saying, ‘That’s the way it is.’ Well, I wanted to put out a magazine which would say: ‘That’s not the way it is at all. Let’s take another look.’”
As Elizabeth Redden '05 noted in a 2010 profile in The Bulletin, Navasky's penchant for heterodoxy, which made him "at home in the public sphere, the realm of argument and counterargument," was balanced by his "temperate" demeanor.
"According to Katrina vanden Heuvel, his successor as editor and publisher at The Nation, Navasky is velvet—but he is velvet over steel," she wrote.
Watch Navasky deliver the 2009 McCabe Lecture, entitled "The Art of Controversy or Why One Caricature May Be Worth 10,000 Words":