Nicholas von Hoffman

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Nicholas von Hoffman (born October 16, 1929 in New York City)[1] is an American journalist and author. He worked as a community organizer for Saul Alinsky in Chicago for ten years from 1953 to 1963.[2] He wrote for the Washington Post. Later, TV audiences knew him as a "Point-Counterpoint" commentator for CBS's 60 Minutes,[3] from which Don Hewitt fired him in 1974. He is a columnist for The Huffington Post.


He is of German-Russian extraction, descendant of Melchior Hoffman and son of Carl von Hoffman. 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).[4] Ben Bradlee, then the editor of the Post, hired him from the Chicago Daily News.

At the Post, he was said to have been a brilliant reporter, and wrote an incendiary 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."[5]

Beginning in 1979 and continuing throughout the '80s, 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 is the author of 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.

Currently he is 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 rat 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 writes for Architectural Digest.

He has three sons: Alexander, a noted historian; Aristodemus, who works in law-enforcement; 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)[6]
  • Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (Nation Books, July 2010)

In popular culture

In 1988, fake 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 VonHoffman." Almanac of Famous People. Gale, 2007. Gale Biography In Context. Retrieved 15 Sept. 2010. Document URL Gale Document Number: GALE|K1601059932. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library.
  2. Nicholas von Hoffman, Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (Nation Books, 2010), pp. 1, 213.
  3. "Nicholas von Hoffman." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 15 Sept. 2010. Document URL Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000102233. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library.
  4. S.I. Hayakawa, ed., Our Language and Our World: Selections from ETC.: A Review of General Semantics (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 65
  5. Columbia Journalism Review[dead link]
  6. Genzlinger, Neil. "Turning a black businesswoman into a token in a debut effort." New York Times 30 Nov. 2002: B20. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 15 Sept. 2010. Document URL Gale Document Number: GALE|A94882390

Further reading

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

External links