A Matter Of Opinion

Book Review by Willard Manus

Journals of opinion don't have many readers, but they make a difference, believes Victor S. Navasky, author of A MATTER OF OPINION, a memoir of the years he spent in the trenches, fighting to keep alive The Nation magazine. The weekly was first published in 1865, when it supported the Abolitionist cause in the battle over slavery, but despite its long, courageous history the magazine never made money--not until Navasky became its editor/publisher thirty years ago and came up with a business plan that put it in the black (by a couple of hundred thousand dollars, petty cash for Time or Newsweek).

Navasky, who describes himself as left/liberal, gave up a fat job at the New York Times to take over at The Nation, a little magazine with a big bark, thanks to the hard-hitting writers who have graced its pages--people like Gore Vidal, Robert Sherill, John Leonard, Jomathan Schell, Nelson Algren, Calvin Trillin, Studs Terkel and Christopher Hitchens, to name just a few. They could sound off and sometimes influence public opinion thanks to the generosity of such publishers as E.L. Godkin, Garrison Villard, Freda Kirchwey and Hamilton Fish, who not only ignored the red ink but gave them the freedom to speak their minds.

The same cannot be said for the U.S. government, fronted by the IRS. Apply for non-profit status and the IRS will crack down on a journal of opinion with a vengeance (especially if it's on the left). As one editor quoted by Navasky said, "if you are in the for-profit world you will be censored by corporations"--refusal to take out ads--"and if you work in the nonprofit world, you'll be censored by government."

There are many upsetting revelations like that in A MATTER OF OPINION, but there are also ample amusing and colorful stories, thanks to Navasky's warm and witty recollections of a life spent on the intellectual left. (Picador, $15 ppbk).