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John Leo, conservative US News columnist, dies at 86

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John Leo, a former columnist for US News & World Report who delighted in piercing liberal pieties on college campuses, poking fun at political correctness and satirizing the idea of ​​cultural victimization, died May 10 in a hospice in the Bronx. He was 86 years old.

He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had been hospitalized for covid-19, said his daughter Alex Leo.

Mr. Leo spent much of his career as a reporter for mainstream publications, including The New York Times and Time magazine, but he was best known for writing biting and often humorous opinion pieces that relied on his Catholic upbringing and a sense of moral outrage about modern life.

“I’m a moralist,” he told Christianity Today in 1996. “It’s a dirty word these days, but I approach things in terms of good and bad.”

Mr Leo called himself the ‘founder of the anti-sensitivity movement’, but his often joking style masked a deep-seated belief that American culture had gone off the rails – veering left – and that it was his duty to blow the whistle .

“I think millions of Americans are in shock and grief over the cultural collapse we see all around us,” he said in the Christianity Today interview. “There has to be a way to stand up and say, ‘This is not the path our culture needs to go. “”

Mr. Leo pointed to the 1960s as the beginning of what he saw as the steady decline of American life, including changes in family structure and growing militancy among students, minority groups, gays and lesbians. women.

“We now have a grievance-based left,” he said in 2001 on Fox News, where he was an occasional commentator. “If you can’t designate yourself as a victim, you can’t go anywhere in American life.”

Mr. Leo did not consider himself an ideologue, and he rarely wrote about partisan politics in his weekly US News columns, which ran from 1988 to 2006 and ran in more than 100 newspapers. He preferred to focus on what he described as politically correct (PC) developments in education, culture, and sexual mores.

“Read a column and you might think Leo is just another grumpy Caucasian guy, bitter at being made the scapegoat du jour,” journalist John Allison wrote of Ms. Leo, “Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police,” for the Pittsburgh Post. – Gazette. “Consume all ‘two steps ahead of the thought police,’ however, and it becomes clear that Leo has a big heart, an open mind that has thought things through, and a ‘tough love’ attitude to the regard to the CP demonstrations.”

Mr. Leo pointed out the failings of mainstream media, condemned rock music and hip-hop lyrics for their vulgarity and took umbrage at the popular 1991 film “Thelma & Louise,” about two women on the run after killed a man.

“All the men in this film,” he wrote, “exist solely to betray, ignore, sweep, penetrate, or arrest our heroines.”

He viewed the Pledge of Allegiance, to which the words “under God” were added in 1954, as a bulwark against growing secularism.

“For religious conservatives,” he wrote, “‘under God’ is a crucial symbol, the last religious reference left in schools since the separationist metamorphosis of education.”

Mr. Leo believed that efforts to instill self-esteem and ethnic pride in students were misguided and undermined the fundamental purpose of education.

“True self-esteem is released when a child learns something and develops a sense of mastery,” he wrote in a 2002 column. “

He often railed against “elites” – invariably meaning liberal elites – although he lives in New York and works for prestigious publications and, later, a think tank.

Some of Mr. Leo’s critics have pointed out that his arguments are sometimes underpinned by distortions and dubious assertions. In 1996, for example, Mr. Leo wrote that “the amount of domestic violence initiated and carried out by men and women is about equal. In fact, women may well be ahead.

The authors of the study Mr Leo cited to support his column said he had grossly misinterpreted their statistics, adding: ‘When we look at injuries resulting from violence involving male and female partners, nearly 90 % of the victims are women and about 10% are men.”

John Patrick Leo was born June 16, 1935 in Hoboken, NJ, and grew up in Teaneck, NJ. Her father designed stainless steel fixtures for hospitals and kitchens, and her mother was a teacher.

Mr. Leo commuted to Regis High School in Manhattan, a prestigious Jesuit institution, and then graduated in 1957 from St. Michael’s, a Catholic college affiliated with the University of Toronto. He later told Christianity Today that he had abandoned his previous religious beliefs.

“I grew up in the Catholic tradition, and my head is permanently shaped by it,” he said. “I believe in its social principles and defend religion against the onslaught of a misguided culture.”

He began his career at the Record newspaper in Bergen County, NJ, then worked as an editor and columnist for Catholic publications before writing about intellectual life for The New York Times from 1967 to 1969.

After working for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Mr. Leo started the Village Voice’s media critics column in 1973. The following year he joined Time, where he covered cultural and religious trends.

Despite his conservative views, the affable Mr. Leo had friends from all political persuasions and was the longtime organizer of a literary softball team in Sag Harbor, NY.

His first marriage, to Stephanie Wolf, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife since 1978, the former Jacqueline McCord, former editor of Family Circle, Readers’ Digest, Consumer Reports, and Good Morning America; two daughters from his first marriage, Kristin Leo and Karen Leo; a daughter from his second marriage, Alexandra Leo; two sisters; a brother; and three grandchildren.

In 2006, Mr. Leo became a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a leading conservative and liberal think tank, where he blogged about developments in higher education until 2016.

From time to time, Mr. Leo would devote his column to confusing the conventions and bombasts of journalistic prose.

“For example, ‘ubiquitous’ means unbearable, as in ‘ubiquitous Yoko Ono’,” he wrote.

He also mocked the proliferation of hyphenated modifiers, “the more meaningless the better: in-depth interviews, blue tape signs, tree-lined streets. Throughout the history of the American journalism, less than twenty streets were not identified as tree-lined.