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Correction to This Article
The Dec. 23 obituary of Jack Newfield gave an incorrect name of his wife. Her name is Janie Eisenberg.

Muckraking N.Y. Reporter Jack Newfield Dies at 66

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page B08

Jack Newfield, who died Dec. 20 of kidney cancer in New York, was the very model of the crusty, crusading big-city reporter. Mr. Newfield, who was 66, spent his entire life in New York, writing for the city's newspapers, excoriating its politicians and crooks and giving voice to a fresh, personal style of populist journalism.

He grew up in Brooklyn and never lost his sense of a being a kid from the streets, even as he became the confidant -- and public scourge -- of the mighty. His reporting helped send politicians to jail, but he also wrote warmly of the boxers, musicians and, on occasion, public figures he admired.

Jack Newfield, shown in 1993, worked at several New York papers and saw himself as a voice for the working class. (Mike Albans -- AP)

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To call him a liberal wasn't enough for Mr. Newfield: He insisted that he was a radical. For that reason, he had little sympathy for what he saw as opportunistic betrayals of the ideals of the 1960s.

"For almost 40 years," he wrote in "Somebody's Gotta Tell It: The Upbeat Memoir of a Working-Class Journalist," his 2002 autobiography, "I have been trying to make sense of the 1960s, trying to understand how the pure contagious idealism of 1960 to 1965 deteriorated into violence and stupidity."

Admittedly partisan in his views and his reporting, Mr. Newfield filtered his stories through his belief that the poor, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed needed someone on their side.

For 24 years, he wrote for the Village Voice, where he helped define the idea of the alternative press. He later worked for the Daily News, the New York Post, the New York Sun and other publications. He also made documentary films and wrote 10 books.

In a 1984 review of a collection of Mr. Newfield's Village Voice journalism, Colman McCarthy wrote in The Washington Post, "[H]ere is a reporter whose responses to public abuses and private scams are those of any citizen who, seeing injustice up close, would try to stop it."

Mr. Newfield often quarreled with former New York mayor Ed Koch, in his Village Voice columns and in a 1988 book, co-written with Wayne Barrett, titled "City for Sale." His investigations led to a number of prosecutions for public corruption.

He wrote a book exposing the criminal past of boxing promoter Don King, and he also resisted the deification of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The "one person who never disappointed or disillusioned me," Mr. Newfield wrote, was Robert F. Kennedy. He was standing 15 feet away when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. Mr. Newfield later wrote a book about Kennedy's presidential campaign, which he developed into a documentary in 1998.

Alluding to a boxer he admired, Mr. Newfield described his approach to journalism as the "Joe Frazier method of reporting."

"Keep coming forward. Don't get discouraged. Be relentless. Don't stop moving your hands. Break the other guy's will."

Jack Newfield, who was born Feb. 18, 1938, grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was 4 when his father died.

He graduated from Hunter College in New York but received his true inspiration from three varied New York journalists: urbane columnist Murray Kempton, street-smart sportswriter Jimmy Cannon and investigative reporter I.F. Stone.

After being fired from three other newspapers, Mr. Newfield found a home at the Village Voice in 1964. He covered subjects including the counterculture and folk music (he approved of Bob Dylan's much-debated decision to switch to an electric guitar).

But he was best known for uncovering corruption in city hall and Congress with solid reporting and blunt-force columns. Mr. Newfield was instrumental in exposing the Abscam scandal of the early 1980s, in which six congressmen were convicted of bribery or other charges. He also compiled annual lists of New York's "10 worst" judges and landlords.

In 1988, Mr. Newfield left the Voice in a dispute about its direction. He spent two years at the New York Daily News but quit in 1990 in sympathy with a strike by the newspaper's unions.

From 1991 to 2001, he wrote a muckraking column for the New York Post. When the eccentric millionaire Abe Hirschfeld bought the newspaper in 1992, Mr. Newfield's column about his new boss was provocatively headlined, "Who Is This Nut?"

Mr. Newfield kept his job at the Post until it was bought by Rupert Murdoch in 2001. In short order, as the paper's lone liberal columnist, he was dismissed. He wrote for the upstart New York Sun and other publications until his death.

A Brooklynite to the last, Mr. Newfield was part of a now legendary episode in borough lore. In 1983, at the Lion's Head Bar, he and another Brooklyn-born writer, Pete Hamill, made separate lists on bar napkins of the 10 worst human beings of the 20th century.

Their first three villains were identical: Hitler, Stalin and Walter O'Malley.

O'Malley, for the uninitiated, was the despised owner who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. For Mr. Newfield, who had grown up idolizing Jackie Robinson, the Dodger who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, it was the ultimate betrayal.

"My Brooklyn," he wrote in his memoir, "was the working-class Brooklyn of the Dodgers, Democrats, unions, optimism and pluralism."

Survivors include his wife, Julie Eisenberg, and two children.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company