If you really want to understand why the First Amendment radical Nat Hentoff was so controversial -- I mean, other than that whole Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing, pro-lifer thing -- then what you really need to do is spend some time reading (or listening to) to the man.
That will do the trick. So watch the video at the top of this post. And hold that thought.
In this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilkens and I talked about the difficulty that some elite news organizations had -- in their obituaries for this complex man -- managing to, well, let Hentoff be Hentoff.
As our launching point, we used the passage in my earlier GetReligion post about Hentoff -- "RIP Nat Hentoff: How did press handle his crusade against illiberals, on left and right?" -- that argued:
... (T)hree pieces of Hentoff's life and work that must be mentioned in these pieces. First, of course, there is his status as a legendary writer about jazz, one of the great passions of his life. Second, you need to discuss why he was consistently pro-life. Note the "why" in that sentence. Third, you have to talk about his radical and consistent First Amendment views -- he defended voices on left and right -- and how those convictions eventually turned him into a heretic (symbolized by The Village Voice firing him) for post-liberal liberals who back campus speech codes, new limits on religious liberty, etc.
To my shock, Wilken ended the podcast session -- with about 90 seconds to go -- by asking me the three essential themes that would have to be included in an obituary for, well, Terry Mattingly. Talk about a curve ball question! You can listen to the podcast to hear my rushed answer to that one.
Like I said earlier, anyone writing about Hentoff has decades of material to quote, if the goal is to let the man speak for himself. Journalists tend to produce lots of on-the-record material.