A prominent and much-admired figure in conservative journalism for decades, Ralph de Toledano died last month at the age of 90. (Dave Zincavage, Feb. 6). The Washington Post in its obituary recounts a sequence of events that did much to darken de Toledano’s later years:
In 1975, consumer activist Ralph Nader filed a lawsuit against De Toledano in connection with a De Toledano suggestion — denied by Nader — that Nader had “falsified and distorted” evidence about the Corvair automobile. The case lingered in court for years and cost De Toledano his life savings. Paul Toledano [son of the author] said it was settled out of court.
(Joe Holley, “Ralph de Toledano, 90; author and ‘nonconformist conservative'”, Washington Post/L.A. Times, Feb. 10).
De Toledano in fact had published an entire critical biography of Nader, entitled Hit and Run: The Rise — and Fall? — of Ralph Nader, used copies of which remain available online — even Nader himself can’t prevent that. The entire episode — in which Mr. Litigation, then at the height of his public fame and influence, inflicted vindictive and personal financial ruin on a well-known journalist who’d had the temerity to criticize him — is one that you’d think would have provoked expressions of concern and solidarity from leading writers and civil libertarians of the day, and yet it didn’t (scroll to #8). The episode tends to get no mention these days in accounts of Nader’s life (which, whatever their varying opinions of his actions as a spoiler presidential candidate, tend toward cloying hagiography of his earlier career). And one consequence of its lingering chilling effect (who wants to volunteer to be the next de Toledano?) may be that no one will be willing to write another genuinely unsparing biography of Nader, at least for publication during the subject’s lifetime.