(Swans - August 27, 2012) What about Alexander Cockburn?, asked a friendly European reader. You have not said a word about his passing... It turns out that Alex died during our Special Summer Issue. Within days, obits, testimonies, hagiographies were all over the place -- even videos posted on YouTube. None of our usual contributors sent me anything about him. I do not feel that I can add much to what has already been written because I have a slightly different perspective on the man, though I never met him. I once saw him give a speech in Arcata, Humboldt County, in Northern California (I think it was in November 2002). I remember that he was dressed all in black with a leather jacket. I could not tell what the content of his speech was about. We did not talk to each other. My only communication with Alex was a short exchange of e-mails (two at the most) circa January or February 2005 in regard to Bruce Anderson, who had just folded his paper in Eugene, Oregon. This very short exchange confirmed the remark made by Michael Yates in his "Fan Letter to Alex Cockburn": "[Alex] could be mean-spirited and vindictive, not above using his position to put others in their place. He could hold grudges." All I know is that following this exchange Swans was never mentioned on CounterPunch again, even though I had corresponded in a friendly and polite way with Jeffrey St. Clair for some time. (The same "censorship" has happened with Bruce Anderson's Anderson Valley Advertiser.)
Let's call it human nature. It's a phenomenon that repeats itself time and again -- friend one day, enemy the other. I seldom read Cockburn's muckraking rants -- stylishly and wittily written, but poorly edited -- after 2009. I did not feel comfortable with his conflicting opinions about Jewish influence in the U.S. His contention in 2007 that roads and highways in America were in good condition (see my Blips #57) made me wonder whether he had lost his marbles along those roads. Then, in 2008, he took a turn to the right and advocated voting for the paleoconservative libertarian candidate Bob Barr (see: "Behind The Curtain Of Ron Paul's Disciples"), and moved on to write about the merits of Ron Paul, all the while allying himself with the likes of Justin Raimondo at antiwar.com, or writing for Chronicles -- a blatantly paleoconservative magazine published by the Rockford Institute. Heretofore, one should not be surprised that "one of the premier radical-left journalists of our era" was lavishly hailed by Ron Unz, the publisher of The American Conservative ("Buckley's Unlikely Heir") or Justin Raimondo ("Alexander Cockburn, RIP"). Cockburn's adamant denial of climate disruptions (aka, anthropogenic climate change) was so startling, stubborn, and uninformed that it blew my mind. How could such an intelligent man be so idiotic? Finally, being a strong proponent of the European project and defender of the eurozone, I got tired of his tirades against Europe, a negative attitude that may explain why he chose to become a US citizen in 2009.
All in all I neither disliked nor liked Alex. I simply became indifferent and stopped reading him or visiting CounterPunch often. It is also a fact that in the past two years or so I have drastically changed my reading habits and now spend much more of my time on non-US, foreign publications. So, it would be unfair to finger-out just CounterPunch. It remains that no doubt how sad it is for his family, his friends, and his fans, his passing has had much less impact on me than the death of Tony Judt or Gore Vidal, two intellectuals of a far higher caliber (read Peter Byrne's take on Vidal).
While I did not know him, many did like and respect him. Manuel García, Jr. wrote a memorial posted on his Blog. There has been an avalanche of words and a flurry of videos praising him. To get a glimpse of his heady and jolly personality I would recommend the 23-minute interview he gave to C-SPAN in 2007, "Alexander Cockburn on his Writing Habits" -- an excellent program. I also understand that CounterPunch is planning a full issue about Alex in September. I can only hope this does not turn out to be a necrology.
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