John Leo: Writer for the Manhattan Institute, Time Magazine, and New York Times

From a story on headlined “In Memoriam: John Leo”:

The Manhattan Institute mourns the passing of former senior fellow and City Journal contributing editor John Leo. A keen observer of “PC culture,” Leo was profoundly dedicated to the mission of restoring balance, rigor, and intellectual pluralism to American universities. He pursued this mission by editing, an online publication dedicated to chronicling developments within higher education.

A talented writer, Leo wrote a popular column “On Society,” which ran in the U.S. News & World Report for 17 years and was syndicated to 140 newspapers through the Universal Press Syndicate. He was also the author of three books, most recently Incorrect Thoughts, which skewered the rise of political correctness in American culture. His other books included How the Russians Invented Baseball and Other Essays of Enlightenment, and Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Through these efforts, he was a tireless defender of free speech and free ideas.

Prior to his time at the Manhattan Institute, Leo worked as a senior writer for Time magazine, and as a staff reporter for the New York Times specializing in intellectual trends and the social sciences. Among other position he held were assistant administrator of New York City’s environmental protection administration, editor of a Catholic newspaper in Iowa, associate editor of Commonweal, book editor of the social science journal Transaction (now Society), and “Press Clips” columnist for The Village Voice.

Leo also served as a member of the ACLU church-state committee and as a member, for ten years, of the Columbia Journalism Review’s board of advisers. He taught a summer course in non-fiction writing at Southampton College. In his final years, he served as Visitor at Ralston College, a liberal arts college in Savannah, Georgia.

Read John Leo’s body of work at the Manhattan Institute here.

A tribute from former colleague Matthew Hennessey, Wall Street Journal

For a few years, I had the most well-situated office in American journalism—ace reporter Judith Miller to my left and rumpled genius John Leo to my right. When Judy’s door was open I could eavesdrop on her conversations with political power players. When John took calls they were likely to be from media royalty—Jim Lehrer or Ken Auletta, Carl Bernstein or Tom Brokaw. I never missed a chance to pepper him with questions. What was the secret to good column writing?

“There’s no one way to do it,” he said. “But you’ve got to get out to a fast start. And you’ve got to keep up the pace.” I’ve never heard better advice.

On my shelf I have a copy of John’s 1994 collection, Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Inside he wrote, “For Matthew Hennessey. Every word true or your money back.” They don’t make writers like John Leo anymore. I’m lucky to have known him.

Matthew Hennessey, deputy opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal and former associate editor at City Journal 

A tribute from former colleague Harry Stein:

John was one of a kind, and his passing is as great a loss to journalism as it is to his wide circle of friends. He was relentless in his pursuit of truth, and sharp and cynical as he could be, (in his writing as in life), it was only in reaction to the world’s failure to live up to his exacting standards. Things are changing before our eyes, and one can only wonder where new John Leos might come from to help set it right.

Harry Stein, contributing editor at City Journal
Also see the New York Times obit By Clay Risen headlined “John Leo, Columnist Who Took Aim at Liberal Pieties, Dies at 86.” The opening grafs:

John Leo, who as a columnist for Time and U.S. News & World Report used his acerbic wit to slaughter herds of liberal sacred cows, especially those wandering outward from college campuses, died on Monday in the Bronx….

Mr. Leo was often labeled a libertarian and a conservative, but he insisted he was neither — though they were not inapt terms for the often scornful tone he took toward left-wing pieties like affirmative action and campus speech codes.

He saw himself as a social skeptic, in the mode of his literary heroes Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken and A.J. Liebling. Like them, he viewed American life with a gimlet eye, leavened by a disarming sense of humor and a deep reserve of cultural and historical knowledge.

“In many ways he was an old-fashioned Democrat,” the writer Roger Rosenblatt, a close friend, said. “He was anything but a right-wing nut case.”

Also like his heroes, and unlike many of today’s politically inclined columnists, Mr. Leo saw himself less as a warrior out to crush ideological enemies than as a thoughtful interlocutor, pushing readers toward enlightenment.

“People are hungry for strong analysis to rub up against,” he told Christianity Today magazine in 1996. “They may not agree with me, but they believe I mean what I say. If I say it strongly, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s right’ or ‘I think he’s full of beans and I’m going to explain why.’ Either way it makes people think.”

But his stance was not merely critical. He fashioned himself a moralist, defending what he saw as an endangered American sense of community that was under attack by liberal individualism and rampant capitalism.

“The culture has careened away from communal feeling to a view that we’re each just 250 million atoms bouncing around looking for advantage,” he said.

As a columnist for U.S. News & World Report in the late 1980s and ’90s, Mr. Leo played a lead role in the era’s roiling culture wars, which were marked by contentious debates about race, gender and inequality that can seem remarkably similar to today’s battles over the same issues.

He was not a reactionary — for example, he supported gay rights at a time when many conservatives still trafficked in open homophobia. He preferred to take aim at excess, especially in college humanities departments, where dismantling the Western canon and the proliferation of “studies” programs — disabilities studies, cultural studies — struck him as absurd and dangerous….

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