A zillion years ago when I was a teenager, and deep into hating anybody over 30 or almost anybody for that matter, I got my first newspaper subscription to the Village Voice, in 1966 when I was a young teenager.
I hate to sound like “back when the Voice was great,” but it was. And much of it was due to Jack Newfield, who more than any other person on the staff, never saw a cause he couldn’t write about.
Obviously he had a great influence on my life. The term “muckraker” was practically invented for him. With great affection and admiration I remember his city “ten worse judges,” and “ten worse landlords.” Yes, those are recurring Voice themes, but it was Newfield who started it.
He was one of the early advocates to end Johnson’s presidency. I always had mixed emotions about that as I thought Johnson had inherited a mess that yes he made messier, but he was one of the best president’s for domestic issues.
What I really admired and like about Newfield was his inability to remain unbiased about issues. While a reporter, is by definition, a writer who is supposed to be impartial, Newfield couldn’t be. He said what he thought, and what he thought was usually on the money.
He sparked many debates between my dad and me, and I thank him for that as sometimes debating was the only way my dad and I could communicate.
My parents practically locked me in the house during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. I wanted to kill them then, but fortunately my parents lived long enough for me to thank them for not letting me go.
I will never forget when he threw a typewriter out of a window from a hotel to protest how police officers were beating demonstrators.
He was a founding member of the Students For a Democratic Society.
In the 1970’s he crusaded against nursing homes that harbored fraud and allowed abuse to happen.
In 1986 he worked with lawyers to help overturn the conviction of Bobby McLauglin, who was incarcerated for murder, when new evidence showed that he was innocent. This wasn’t done with DNA evidence, but evidence that had never come to light somehow. I can only think of a few other people who had their murder convictions overturned then–most notably Hurricane Carter who Bob Dylan wrote a song for.
Newfield happened to be a staunch defender of Bob Dylan’s electric guitar playing which was a much bigger issue than anybody who wasn’t around then could imagine.
Newfield died this past Monday night of kidney cancer. He was 66, which seems pretty young to me now.
We need more muckrakers and crusaders who aren’t afraid to tell the truth as they see it. I thank him for helping me ignite the passion I felt about issues.
He helped me replace my teenage angst with positive action and I’m sure that my whole family would thank him for that.