Nicholas von Hoffman

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Born(1929-10-16)October 16, 1929
New York City, New York
DiedFebruary 1, 2018(2018-02-01) (aged 88)
NationalityUnited States
OccupationJournalist, writer
Known forPoint/Counterpoint

Nicholas von Hoffman (October 16, 1929 – February 1, 2018) was an American journalist and author. He worked as a community organizer for Saul Alinsky in Chicago for ten years from 1953 to 1963.[1] He wrote for The Washington Post. Later, TV audiences knew him as a "Point-Counterpoint" commentator for CBS's 60 Minutes,[2] from which Don Hewitt fired him in 1974. He was also a columnist for The Huffington Post.

Life and career[edit]

Born in New York City on October 16, 1929,[3] he was of German-Russian extraction, the son of Anna L. (Bruenn), a dentist, and Carl von Hoffman, an explorer and adventurer.[4][5] Von Hoffman never went to college. In the 1950s, he worked on the research staff of the Industrial Relations Center of the University of Chicago and then for Alinsky as a field representative of the Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago, where his best known role was as lead organizer for The Woodlawn Organization (TWO).[6] Ben Bradlee, then the editor of The Washington Post, hired him from the Chicago Daily News.

While at the Post, von Hoffman wrote a column for the paper's Style section. In her memoirs, Katharine Graham, then the newspaper's publisher, wrote of him: "My life would have been a lot simpler had Nicholas von Hoffman not appeared in the paper." She added, however, that "I firmly believed that he belonged at the Post".[7]

Beginning in 1979 and continuing throughout the 1980s, von Hoffman recorded more than 250 radio commentaries, audio op-eds in the sardonic style he used on 60 Minutes. These commentaries were broadcast on the nationally syndicated daily radio program, Byline, which was sponsored by the Cato Institute. Subjects of von Hoffman's audio op-eds included the 1984 Democratic primary candidates, the Reagan administration's foreign policy in Central America and the Middle East, and the cynical, self-serving misuse of language by politicians.

Von Hoffman wrote more than a dozen books, notably: Capitalist Fools: Tales of American Business, from Carnegie to Forbes to the Milken Gang (1992) and Citizen Cohn (1988), a biography of Roy Cohn, which was made into an HBO movie. A recent title is Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies (2004).

Von Hoffman also wrote a libretto for Deborah Drattell's Nicholas and Alexandra for the Los Angeles Opera which was performed in the 2003/04 season under the direction of Plácido Domingo.

Recently he was a columnist for the New York Observer.

Von Hoffman was fired by Don Hewitt for referring to President Richard Nixon, at the height of the Watergate scandal, as "the dead mouse on the kitchen floor of America, and the only question now is who's going to pick him up by his tail and throw him in the garbage." His collaborations, both literary and otherwise, with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau are worth noting, in particular the 1976 book Tales From the Margaret Mead Taproom. In this book he recounted his adventures in American Samoa with Trudeau and actress Elizabeth Ashley, as they and several others experienced life in the American territory, which Trudeau had lampooned in a series of Doonesbury strips involving Uncle Duke's adventures as the territory's appointed governor. He also wrote for Architectural Digest.

He was survived by three sons: Alexander, a noted historian; Aristodemos, who works in intelligence; and Constantine, also a journalist.


(partial list)

  • The Multiversity: A Personal Report on What Happens to Today's Students at American Universities
  • We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against
  • Mississippi Notebook
  • Two, Three, Many More (novel)
  • Organized Crimes (novel)
  • Citizen Cohn (1988)
  • Capitalist Fools: Tales of American Business, from Carnegie to Forbes to the Milken Gang
  • Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies
  • Geneva (play)[8]
  • Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (Nation Books, July 2010)

In popular culture[edit]

In 1988, fictional presidential candidate Jack Tanner named von Hoffman as his pick for Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in Robert Altman's HBO series Tanner '88.


  1. ^ Nicholas von Hoffman, Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (Nation Books, 2010), pp. 1, 213.
  2. ^ "Biography in Context – Document: "Nicholas von Hoffman"". Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  3. ^ "Biography in Context – Document: "Nicholas VonHoffman"". Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  4. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (February 1, 2018). "Nicholas von Hoffman, Provocative Journalist and author, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  5. ^ "Anna L. Bruenn, dentist, Mother Of Columnist". The Washington Post. May 5, 1978. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  6. ^ S.I. Hayakawa, ed., Our Language and Our World: Selections from ETC.: A Review of General Semantics (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 65
  7. ^ Sherman, Scott. "Washington 2002: Donald Graham's Washington Post". Columbia Journalism Review. No. 5: September/October 2002. Archived from the original on November 24, 2003. Retrieved November 24, 2003.
  8. ^ "Biography in Context – Document: "Turning a black businesswoman into a token in a debut effort"". Retrieved February 3, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Roberts, Chalmers M. (1977). The Washington Post: The First 100 Years. Boston, MA: Houghton.

External links[edit]