More on Alexander Cockburn

I wrote a longer piece on Alexander Cockburn for Al Jazeera.

Here are some other reminiscences, remembrances, and reflections:

One of the most thoughtful and comprehensive assessments from Kathy Geier, who also includes some great links.

Dennis Perrin on, among other things, Cockburn’s darker side.

I linked to this in my earlier piece, but here again is Jeffrey St. Clair, Cockburn’s comrade and writing partner.

More on Hitchens versus Cockburn from Jeff Sparrow.

An interesting appreciation from National Review‘s John Fund, who had once been Cockburn’s editor at the Wall Street Journal.

And another appreciation from the right: libertarian Jesse Walker.

Some tweets from his niece actress Olivia Wilde: “He taught me how to make coffee in a jar, how to listen to LPs, how to ride a horse through a river, and how to drive a classic with love.”

And the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Nation, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and the Los Angeles Times, quoting Marc Cooper: “He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist.” Cooper means that as a criticism, but Cockburn would have worn it as a badge of honor.

The last word goes to Cockburn himself: a compilation by Jack Shafer of some of his best writings and an interview he gave to Doug Henwood last year.

Update (10:45 am)

Oops! I forgot to include this one from Louis Proyect.

Update (4 pm)

A late arrival by James Wolcott.  By far the best.  So worth the wait. Makes me embarrassed that I tried at all. Here’s a selection:

Alex might have been tagged with the label of “radical chic” were it not for the fact that he truly was radical, it wasn’t a passing phase or trend surfing or a temporary swelling of liberal heart; he was the son of the great Claud Cockburn (whom he would celebrate on the 100th anniversary of his birth as “the greatest radical journalist of his age”), he was and remained a contributor to New Left Review, he had an executioner’s gleam in his eye when he went after a conservative foe or a former comrade turned defector, something one didn’t quite picture in the caring eyes of Lenny Bernstein.

Even when he was at his most high-visibly productive, there were those who complained that he devoted and dispersed too much of his energies into deadline journalism and public addressing, riding the whirligig instead of delivering a “real book,” a stand-alone achievement that would have join the company of the best of C. Wright Mills or Saul Alinsky. It was a nagging shadow that would dog journalists and critics as different as Dwight Macdonald, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Seymour Krim, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ellen Willis–where’s the Major Tome, buddy? Since I’m a fan of collections and anthologies, believe that the best writing often shines in shards and galloping stretches, I never find myself lobbying for a writer I enjoy reading regularly to hole up in Heidegger’s hut for four or five years to bring forth a mountain. You want a tombstone masterpiece so much, go write your own, we’ll keep the landing-strip lights on for your victorious return.

Update (8 pm)

These two appreciations—from James Fallows and Michael Tomasky, liberals of the sort that Cockburn loved to flail—are worth a read.

And the Nation does a roundup, including two lovely reminiscences at the top from Cockburn’s niece Laura Flanders and the economist Robert Pollin, who says:

Alex also became good friends with our two daughters, Emma and Hannah, when they were about 9 and 6 years old. Emma once had a school assignment to write an essay on the person she most admired in the world. Without asking or telling anyone beforehand, she wrote it about Alex. After I had sent the essay to Alex, he told Emma how honored he felt. He said that nobody had ever captured him so well in words. I think he really meant it.

The true measure as to how much Alex respected my daughters occurred after he had written something very nasty in one of his columns about, of all things, Sesame Street. I told Alex that he had written many great columns about, say, Reaganomics or U.S. imperialism and Nicaragua, but that he had totally missed the boat on Sesame Street, which my kids, along with zillions of others, loved. After Alex heard confirmation on this directly from Emma, he published a lengthy retraction and apology. Since Alex died on Friday, I have seen many descriptions of him as a fierce and relentless critic who would never, ever back down. But my family and I knew otherwise.

Update (10:30 pm)

Two more before bedtime: one from Doug Henwood (including a Skype interview with Cockburn), and one from James Ridgeway, who was Cockburn’s writing partner in the 1970s at the Village Voice.

Update (midnight)

Still awake, and stumbled across this one from Jack Shafer.  It includes this brilliant excerpt from Cockburn on how to write an earthquake story:

Quick comparisons with other earthquakes. Secondly, where is it? Usually in “remote Eastern Turkey” or in the “arid center of Iran.” But with luck it will have occurred in marginally more accessible Latin or Central America. Good chance for post facto description. Most of the buildings destroyed; others leaning at crazy angles. Constant flood of refugees. People clawing at rubble. Survivors crawling, blinking into the light of day. Preliminary tremors, then “for six seconds the earth shook.” Make sure to get picture of one building standing (usually a church in Roman Catholic countries or a mosque in Muslim ones.) Get interviews from American survivors. Animadvert on general danger of earthquakes, particularly in San Francisco area. Most important of all: get casualty figures and escalate them each day. Remind people that 200,000 people died in the Lisbon earthquake.

And also ends on this perfect note:

He routinely sided with the powerless, sometimes even when they were wrong, and sometimes, I suspect, precisely because they were wrong. That was Cockburn’s kind of fight.

And that really is all.  For now.


  1. BillW July 23, 2012 at 11:55 pm | #

    LRB editors and that convention episode reminded me of something Alex’s account of another convention:

    I remember her at the Republican convention in New Orleans in 1980. Conservative queen bees like Kirkpatrick and Schafly had, in their proximate physical aspect, an undercurrent of erotic violence–Jeane was surely a closet case–that didn’t really come through on camera. Rooted under the rostrum in the Superdome, peering up into Kirkpatrick’s flaring nostrils I could see planes of her face that were normally flattened out in the bland imagery of videotape.

    Of course she was talking about “national security” with her lips puckered into a moue of cruel delight as she foretold how Dukakis and the Democrats would leave America bound helpless beneath the Russian jackboot. The only jackboot I could keep in mind was hers: Jeane lashing savagely at the cuffed and whimpering body of effete liberalism.

    I wouldn’t bother too much with Perrin’s ‘darker side’ business. He never wrote in the past why Cockburn severed ties with him, and if it was over Perrin’s failure to take the measure of that turncoat Hitchens, then that’s perfectly understandable behavior. As recounted in a fine deconstruction of Hitchens’ MO:

    It is not by chance that “fraternity” is a prized value of the left: in the course of political struggle, one forges, if not always literally, then, at any rate, spiritually, blood bonds.

    • Dennis Perrin July 24, 2012 at 6:22 am | #

      “I wouldn’t bother too much with Perrin’s ‘darker side’ business. He never wrote in the past why Cockburn severed ties with him, and if it was over Perrin’s failure to take the measure of that turncoat Hitchens, then that’s perfectly understandable behavior.”

      Actually, I did write about it at my first blog on December 6, 2006. And it was I who severed ties, such as they were, not AC. He was perfectly willing to keep posting my work at Counterpunch, so long as I followed his strange dictates — which had nothing to do with Hitchens’ politics. It had to do with AC’s fantasy take on mine.

      Also, AC posted critical remarks by me about Hitchens at Counterpunch.I was hardly in thrall to Christopher’s “turncoat” turn, as any Google search would instantly show.

      (Too bad AC didn’t use Google for that nugget posted above. The 1980 GOP convention was in Detroit, not New Orleans.)

      • BillW July 24, 2012 at 8:44 am | #

        I do remember reading something along the lines of you weren’t sure why Cockburn was not accepting anything from you. Anyways, I’m sure you’re much better versed in the ins and outs of whatever happened but we’ll only be getting one side of the matter now unless AC had put something to pen on it, which I doubt given his distaste of petty feuding.

      • BillW July 25, 2012 at 10:51 pm | #

        btw, re Jeanne Kirkpatrick it must have been the ’88 Republican Convention that AC was referring to, where she spoke out against those who were insufficiently anti-Communist:

        Kirkpatrick briefly considered running for President in 1988 against George H.W. Bush, because she believed he was not tough enough on Communism. Kirkpatrick endorsed Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, who was the runner up to Bush.

        Phyllis Schlafly was also present and held her own event that picketed by gay rights groups.

  2. Dennis Perrin July 24, 2012 at 8:55 am | #

    If you can find that, I’d be happy to refresh my memory. But there’s no mystery on my end about the reason for our split (if you can call it that). And AC did his share of petty feuding. He could slime and slander with the best of them — though his slams were usually much better written than his opponents’ takes.

  3. Frank Wilhoit July 24, 2012 at 10:51 am | #

    So: Olivia Wilde *needed*to*be*taught* how to make coffee in a jar. I cling to a faint hope that this may turn out to be a farfetched euphemism for something wonderfully naughty, but, alas, the overwhelming likelihood is that it means exactly what it says.

    • Corey Robin July 24, 2012 at 10:52 am | #

      I’ve been making coffee all my life and I don’t know how to make it in a jar. Am I missing something here?

      • Brahmski July 27, 2012 at 8:17 am | #

        Get one of those stove-top Italian espresso makers instead. They’re the best. So simple to use, inexpensive, and make delicious coffee. Truly the people’s percolator.

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