Pete Hamill, columnist, novelist and celebrity, is without a column.
The New York Daily News fired him for being "too left-wing" for the paper, Hamill said after a breakfast meeting yesterday with news editor Michael J. O'Neill. "Basically it comes down to that the column is ended because he doesn't like my politics," Hamill said.
Hamill wrote three times a week for the Daily News for the last three years."I had a great time," he said. "It was like playing for the Basie band," he said of writing the column, which brought him $50,000 a year.
O'Neill said that he wouldn't argue with any way Hamill wanted to characterize the discussions that led to the end of his column, but that he would not summarize his remarks as having called the writer too far left for the News.
He cited a Hamill column on Iran and one on the trial of New York dock union leader Anthony Scotto, who was convicted of racketeering, as examples of problems with Hamill's approach.
O'Neill asked Hamill to write once a week, but Hamill declined.
In a statement to the News staff, O'Neill said, "Pete is a marvelous, gifted writer and a great guy who produced many memorable columns for the paper." Both men stressed they have warm regard for each other.
O'Neill said his decision to drop Hamill's column came as part of a review of all features the paper carries. He said he hoped that Hamill would still write occasional articles for the paper.
Politics have always divided Hamill and the News. In an interview two years ago, Hamill said that the News is "a moderate-conservative paper now, instead of a crazy-conservative paper, which it was for a long time."
Earlier this year, the News pointed to Hamill and fellow columnist Jimmy Breslin as part of the tabloid's effort to widen its appeal. The News recently lost its title of the "biggest-selling paper in America" to The Wall Street Journal.
Hamill, 44, who became a celebrity by dating Jacqueline Onassis, Shirley MacLaine and other famous women, has been writing a series of hardboiled thrillers featuring Sam Briscoe, a tough ex-newspaperman. Hamill has called the book an "imaginary autobiography."
The Brisco book and a best seller, "Flesh and Blood" -- about a boxer who had incestuous relationship with his mother -- have brought Hamill big paydays.
One irony of the firing, Hamill said, was that O'Neill had labeled his column too much like The Village Voice. In its last issue, The Village Voice attacked Hamill in its front page for allegedly being too ready to defend Scotto.