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Tough-guy reporter Sidney Zion has died of cancer at the age of 75. Trained as a lawyer, Zion flourished as a political journalist in New York — though rarely in the same venue for long. “I am journalism’s Billy Martin,” he said. “I get hired and fired. I get fired for doing what they want me to do.” He broke the news that Daniel Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers — which he insisted got him blackballed in the business for years. Also, in contrast to his fellow journalists, he was a friend to the infamous Republican fixer Roy Cohn, and wrote his autobiography. But he was not an partisan axe-grinder. During the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, he oddly persisted in referring to the relevant sex act as “yakahoola,” and found the prospect of Clinton’s impeachment over it absurd (“No man kisses and tells if he’s any good, and no woman, either”).
He is perhaps best known for suing New York Hospital for allowing over-tired residents to treat his daughter Libby, which he claimed had caused her death; he didn’t win his case, but the state passed a law, for which the Libby Zion case is considered the inspiration, to prevent egregious overwork of doctors in hospitals. His son says Zion was “somebody who lived better than anybody I know, who never did anything he didn’t want to do,” which you can’t say about too many people.