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US columnist, Nixon speechwriter Safire dies at 79: report

world Updated: Sep 28, 2009 10:03 IST

William Safire, a speechwriter for disgraced US president Richard Nixon and a longtime political columnist, died on Sunday at the age of 79, his former employer The New York Times reported.

Safire, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his Times articles, joined Nixon's inner circle after steering the

then-vice president into a heated exchange with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that became known as the "kitchen debate".

The impromptu argument between the leaders about the merits of their countries' economic systems, took place in a

model kitchen in 1959 Moscow.

Safire, a public relations man at the time, even took an iconic photograph of the encounter.

Nixon, who in August 1974 resigned the US presidency over the Watergate scandal, hired Safire to work as a speech
writer during a first, losing bid for the White House in 1960, and again in 1968, upon winning the US presidency.

Safire also was a celebrated lexicographer who tracked the usage of the written and spoken American language.

Perhaps most famously in his beloved cannon of alliterative phrases, the conservative Safire lobbed biting wit at adversaries, such as the timeless "nattering nabobs of negativism," and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."