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William Safire vs. WORLD

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William Safire, the New York Times columnist who died of pancreatic cancer over the weekend, was not exactly an admirer of WORLD Magazine. Early in the year 2000, he wrote a blistering piece accusing WORLD of virtually every sin in the book of journalism ethics. Specifically, he was upset that George W. Bush had just defeated John McCain in the South Carolina Republican primary---at a time when all the mainstream media had made it clear they wanted McCain to win. In his column, Safire said WORLD had timed a major story about McCain to come out just before the election, deliberately raising negative issues McCain would have no opportunity to answer. And he complained darkly that because Bob Jones IV, our main political reporter at that time, had done our story, there had to be some connection with the fact that Bush had spoken during the campaign at Bob Jones University while McCain had never been invited to do so.

Three times over the next half dozen years, I stopped by Safire's office in downtown Washington. It wasn't that I wanted to complain; I just wanted to meet the man who had gone from being a speechwriter for Richard Nixon to being the Times' main Washington observer. But I missed him all three times. His secretary, though, assured me that he received and read WORLD, and that she would let him know I had come by.

Then, about two years ago, I stopped with a friend for a sandwich at a small delicatessen a couple of blocks from Safire's office---and who should be sitting there reading his paper but Safire himself. Boldly and a bit rudely, I broke into his reading: "Mr. Safire," I said, "you've got no way of knowing me---I'm Joel Belz with WORLD Magazine. I doubt if you remember . . ." "Of course I do, he said, pulling out the empty chair beside him. "I did a piece about you after the Republican primary in 2000. I don't think what I said was very complimentary. How did you do after that?"

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"As a matter of fact," I told him, "you were quite a help to us. In a sense, you put us on the map. We had never earned that kind of mention in The New York Times before. But you may have overestimated our influence. I frankly doubt that even if everything you said was true we could have made that much difference."

He grinned, and reached out his hand to shake mine. "I still follow you from week to week," he said, confirming what his secretary had told me. "And I wish you well."

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