|Born||Alexander Claud Cockburn
6 June 1941
|Died||21 July 2012
Bad Salzhausen, Germany
|Notable credit(s)||CounterPunch, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times|
|Relatives||Andrew Cockburn, Patrick Cockburn, Olivia Wilde, Stephanie Flanders|
Alexander Claud Cockburn (// KOH-bərn; 6 June 1941 – 21 July 2012) was an Irish American political journalist and writer. Cockburn was brought up in Ireland but had lived and worked in the United States since 1972. Together with Jeffrey St. Clair, he edited the political newsletter CounterPunch. Cockburn also wrote the "Beat the Devil" column for The Nation as well as one for The Week in London, syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
Early life and family
Born in Scotland, Cockburn grew up in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland. He was the eldest son of the former communist author and journalist, Claud Cockburn, by his third wife, Patricia Byron, née Arbuthnot (who also wrote an autobiography, Figure of Eight). His ancestors included Sir George Cockburn, 10th Baronet.
He had one daughter, Daisy Alice Cockburn (5 February 1969), whose mother is the writer Emma Tennant (his wife 13 December 1968 – 1973), and two younger brothers, Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, who are also journalists. His half-sister, the barrister and mystery writer Sarah Caudwell, died in 2000. In addition, journalists Laura Flanders and Stephanie Flanders are his half-nieces, daughters of his half-sister Claudia Cockburn and her husband Michael Flanders. Actress Olivia Wilde is his niece, daughter of his brother Andrew Cockburn.
After studying at Glenalmond College, an independent boys' boarding school in Perthshire, Scotland, and at Keble College, University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Cockburn worked in London as a reporter and commentator.
After moving to the United States, Cockburn wrote for many publications, including The New York Review of Books, Esquire, and Harper's. From 1973 to 1983 he was a writer with The Village Voice, originating its longstanding "Press Clips" column, but he was suspended, the Voice stated, "for accepting a $10,000 grant from an Arab studies organization in 1982". His defenders charge that his criticism of Israeli government policies was behind the firing. Cockburn said he left the Voice following the offer of a regular column in The Nation called "Beat the Devil" (after the title of a novel by his father). After leaving the Voice, he wrote columns for the Wall Street Journal, New York Press, and the New Statesman. Cockburn was also a regular contributor to the Anderson Valley Advertiser.
Cockburn originally chose Irish citizenship (over UK citizenship), but in 2009 he became a citizen of the United States. He became a permanent resident of the United States in 1973. On 16 March 2009 Cockburn officially became a new columnist for the paleoconservative Chronicles magazine.
Themes and opinions
There were a number of consistent themes in Cockburn's political writing, among them:
- Outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy, from its policies in Central America in the 1980s, including the Iran–Contra affair, to the First Gulf War in 1991, the Kosovo War in 1999, and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2003 invasion of Iraq.
- Criticism of the government of Israel based on its treatment of the Palestinians.
- Calls for political reform in the United States, mostly focused on criticizing the Democratic Party for failing to provide a progressive alternative to the Republican Party, as well as strong support for Ralph Nader's presidential candidacies in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
- Contempt for the mainstream establishment, in particular for public figures who, in his view, gain mainstream respectability by criticizing those to their left; targets have included The New York Times, President Barack Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders, the late academic Irving Howe, and some of his colleagues at The Nation, including Marc Cooper, David Corn and Eric Alterman. Cockburn was also highly critical of his former friend and colleague, Christopher Hitchens.
- Criticism of 9/11 conspiracy theories
- Regarding prior knowledge of Pearl Harbor, Cockburn maintains that "there is strong evidence that FDR did have knowledge that a Japanese naval force in the north Pacific was going to launch an attack on Pearl Harbor. It's quite possible Roosevelt thought it would be a relatively mild assault and thought it would be the final green light to get the US into the war."
Cockburn criticized the German government for passing restrictive laws against the Church of Scientology, invoking several comparisons with Nazi Germany. Although he stated that Scientology deserved scrutiny, he also maintained that the demonization of any particular unpopular group — even one officials consider a cult — presented a far more imminent danger than the activities of Scientologists, or the organization they belong to.
Cockburn denounced the economic and political sanctions imposed on the Iraqi government by the United Nations, but Cockburn was more aggressive than most in his criticisms of American and British actions during the 12 years between the formal resolution of the Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. In a column published in 2000, Cockburn averred that the economic embargo imposed upon Iraq was "demonically designed to prompt gnawing, endless suffering throughout Iraq's social economy". In the same column, Cockburn concluded that every major Republican or Democratic nominee running in the 2000 presidential election was supportive of Iraq sanctions, and was therefore complicit in mass murder.
Cockburn also joined the widespread criticism of the subsequent occupation of Iraq by American, British and other national military forces (the self-described "Coalition of the Willing"). In the wake of the capture of Saddam Hussein, Cockburn penned a column entitled "How to kill Saddam", in which he argued that the ensuing trial of Hussein would be a mock tribunal, conducted by a "kangaroo court", and that Hussein's conviction and ultimate execution were foregone conclusions.
In contrast, Cockburn's position on global warming was consistent with views usually held by the right. He believed the phenomenon has not been proven to be caused by humans, citing the statements of Martin Hertzberg that rising CO2 levels are a symptom, not a cause, of global warming, which Hertzberg asserts is the result of natural, predictable changes in the Earth's elliptic orbit. In fact, Hertzberg is a semi-retired explosives expert who does not claim to be a climatologist. Cockburn was also critical of the "greenhouse" explanation for warming by positing that it is incongruous with the laws of physics, specifically the second law of thermodynamics. He cited the research of Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf Tscheuschner's Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics.
Cockburn was also critical of the originator of the Green Revolution concept. In an article in the Nation on Al Gore's 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Cockburn made the following statement on Norman Borlaug's 1971 Nobel Prize: "Line up some of the more notorious Nobel Peace Prize recipients, such as Kissinger, and if you had to identify the biggest killer of all it was probably Norman Borlaug, one of the architects of the Green Revolution, which unleashed displacement, malnutrition, and death across the Third World." Cockburn had criticized Borlaug previously on this issue.
At times acerbic, Cockburn could also be gently and humorously ironic, once declaring Gerald Ford America's greatest president for doing the least damage (his administration was the shortest in the 20th century) and praising the Lewinsky scandal's entertainment value. In the same vein, he has also expressed his admiration for the beauty of both Tipper Gore and Laura Bush. His nudge-nudge, wink-wink brand of humor is demonstrated in his response to a question asking for a comparison between George W. Bush and Napoleon. He replied that he wasn't sure about Bush as Napoleon, "though surely Josephine's heart beats beneath Laura's delicious bosom".
Cockburn and anti-Semitism
Cockburn wrote a great deal on the use of anti-Semitism accusations in modern politics, particularly by the state of Israel and its supporters, and co-edited a book on the subject, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Cockburn was, himself, accused of anti-Semitism, which he denied. He considered it an example of the use of that accusation to intimidate criticism of Israel and avert attention from Israel's policies.
One of those making anti-Semitism charges against Cockburn was Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. In November 2005, Dershowitz wrote to the National Catholic Reporter that Cockburn's Counterpunch web site was anti-Semitic. This was in response to a review of Norman Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpah by Counterpunch contributor Neve Gordon. Cockburn had previously accused Dershowitz, in 2003, of plagiarism, and, in October 2005, of supporting torture. Cockburn and Dershowitz each denied the other's charges. Dershowitz also claimed that Cockburn was one of three writers (along with Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky) engaged in an attempt to discredit him, which Cockburn also denied.
A 2002 Cockburn article on anti-Semitic remarks by Reverend Billy Graham reprinted elsewhere, discussed the furor over recently released tape recorded conversations between Graham and President Richard Nixon. Cockburn contrasted that response to the response to revelations in 1989 that Graham had advocated destroying Vietnam's irrigation infrastructure, which by Nixon's estimate would kill a million civilians, if the Paris peace talks failed. The latter revelations, in Cockburn's view, received little press coverage, while the anti-Semitic remarks caused a media firestorm. Cockburn wrote that Graham's anti-Semitic comments were
consonant with the standard conversational bill of fare at 75 percent of the country clubs in America, not to mention many a Baptist soiree? But they (Nixon, Graham, and White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman) didn't say they wanted to kill a million Jews. That's what Graham said about the Vietnamese and no one raised a bleat.
Certainly, there are a number of stories sloshing around the news now that have raised discussions of Israel and of the posture of American Jews to an acrid level. The purveyor of anthrax may have been a former government scientist, Jewish, with a record of baiting a colleague of Arab origins, and with the intent to blame the anthrax on Muslim terrorists. Rocketing around the web and spilling into the press are many stories about Israeli spies in America at the time of 9/11. On various accounts, they were trailing Mohamed Atta and his associates, knew what was going to happen but did nothing about it, or were simply spying on US facilities.
To be fair, Cockburn doesn't exactly endorse these theories. Rather, by noting that all of these Jewish conspiracy stories are "sloshing around the news," Cockburn seems merely to be pointing out that, hey, anti-Semitic ideas are still out there today — so why the shock that Graham endorsed them 30 years ago? Indeed, when I reached Cockburn to ask him about these conspiracies, he insisted he was just reporting what was already in circulation.
Part of Cockburn's response to the Graham article controversy was his ironically entitled essay My Life as an "Anti-Semite", from the The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Cockburn wrote:
Over the past 20 years I've learned there's a quick way of figuring out just how badly Israel is behaving. You see a brisk uptick in the number of articles here accusing the left of anti-Semitism. ... Back in the 1970s when muteness on the topic of how Israel was treating Palestinians was near-total in the United States, I'd get the anti-Semite slur hurled at me once in a while for writing about such no-no stuff as Begin's fascist roots in Betar, or the torture of Palestinians by Israel's security forces. I minded then, as I mind now, but overuse has drained the term of much clout.
In May 2012 Cockburn said of Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, that she is a "nationalist politician, quite reasonably exploiting the intense social discontent in France amid the imposition of the bankers' austerity programs". He disputed the impact of Le Pen's attacks on Muslims and immigrants and rejected claims of her antisemitism.
Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens is often mentioned in connection with Cockburn as ideological differences on various issues caused bitter moments between the two men. Beyond issues such as the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, they strongly differed over ethical disputes involving writers such as Sidney Blumenthal and Edward Said. In a Counterpunch article in August 2005, Cockburn referred to Hitchens as: "A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited til his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel." Hitchens responded by standing by his criticism of Sheehan and then defending his deposition to U.S. House of Representatives prosecutors regarding Blumenthal during the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his critical review of Said’s book, Orientalism (Hitchens stating that the review was determined by the 25th anniversary of the book’s original publication and not the state of Said’s health).
In an April 2009 interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb, Hitchens intimated that his friendship with Cockburn was still intact despite their disagreements. Hitchens mentioned that he had recently attended a Cockburn family wedding in which Alexander officiated, and that he and Cockburn used to see each other more frequently when they had both lived on the same coast of the United States. In the same interview, Lamb and Hitchens discussed Cockburn's scathing remarks about Hitchens criticisms of Said and Sheehan. Hitchens felt the intervening years had justified his criticisms of Sheehan, and expressed that "it's beneath Alexander to be defending someone as cheap and demagogic as her". In the case of Hitchens' criticisms of Said on his death bed, Hitchens replied, "It's actually rather silly of Alexander to say that...he's often written counter-obituaries of people who have been overpraised and has chosen precisely the moment when there's a lot of sentimental garbage being published to say, 'come on, this guy wasn't so great!' " Following Hitchens' death in 2011, Cockburn wrote a critical obituary of him for Counterpunch.
- Incompatibles (1967) (co-edited with Robin Blackburn)
- Student Power (1969) (co-edited with Robin Blackburn)
- Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death (1975)
- Smoke: Another Jimmy Carter Adventure (1978) (with James Ridgeway)
- Political Ecology (1979) (co-edited with James Ridgeway)
- Corruptions of Empire (1988) ISBN 0-86091-940-4
- The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon (1989) (with Susanna Hecht) ISBN 0-06-097322-6
- The Golden Age Is in Us: Journeys and Encounters (1995) ISBN 0-86091-664-2
- Washington Babylon (1995) (with Ken Silverstein) ISBN 1-85984-092-2
- Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press (1998) (with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-85984-258-5
- 5 Days That Shook The World: The Battle for Seattle and Beyond (2000) (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-85984-779-X
- Al Gore: A User's Manual (2000) (with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-85984-803-6
- CounterPunch: The Journalism That Rediscovers America (2002) (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-85984-455-3
- The Politics of Anti-Semitism (2003) (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-902593-77-4
- Serpents in the Garden (2004) (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-902593-94-4
- Imperial Crusades (2004) (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-84467-506-8
- Dime's Worth of Difference (2004) (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) ISBN 1-904859-03-8
- End Times: Death of the Fourth Estate (2006) (with Jeffrey St. Clair)
- Beating the Devil: The Incendiary Rants of Alexander Cockburn
- Moynihan, Colin (21 July 2012). "Alexander Cockburn, Left-Wing Writer, Is Dead at 71". New York Times. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
- Mosley, Charles (ed.), Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 1, page 120 and volume 2, page 1571.
- "Village Voice Suspends Alexander Cockburn Over $10,000 Grant". Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones). 18 January 1984. p. 12.
- "This Year in New York History: A Voice Timeline". The Village Voice 50th Anniversary Special. Village Voice. 2006. Retrieved 22 August 2006.
- Cockburn, Alexander, I Become an American, CounterPunch, 19 June 2009.
- Cockburn, Alexander, "How the Networks Went into the Drug Peddling Business", online edition, 16 Mar 2009. Accessed 2010.1.27.
- Cockburn, Alexander, "The Anti-War Movement and Its Critics", CounterPunch, 14 November 2002, Retrieved 29 April 2006
- "Hitch the Snitch", Editorial, CounterPunch, 1999, Retrieved 29 April 2006
- Cockburn, Alexander, and Jeffrey St. Clair, "Debunking the Myths of 9/11", Counterpunch, 28 November 2006
- *(English) Cockburn, Alexander,"Distractions from awful reality – US: the conspiracy that wasn’t", Le Monde diplomatique, December 2006 *(French)"Scepticisme ou occultisme? Le complot du 11-Septembre n’aura pas lieu"; *Iranian translation *(Portuguese) "PODERES IMAGINÁRIOS – A 'conspiração' das Torres Gêmeas".
- About Scientologists Take Offensive In Reich Land Statement From The Church Of Scientology
- Cockburn, Alexander, The Free Press – Independent News Media, 2/2000.]
- Is Global Warming a Sin?
- "ZNet presents a debate about Global Warming between Alexander Cockburn and George Monbiot". Znet. 2007.
- Martin Hertzberg, Ph D
- Anthropogenic Global Warming is a Farce 24 December 2009
- This approved non-technical summary by Hans Schreuder, 24 June 2008
- The Real Al Gore
- Prostration before reaction, David Walsh, World Socialist Web Site, 2 September 1998, Retrieved 29 April 2006
- The extreme sport of insult, Reported by John Leo, 22 December 2003, in US News and World Report online
- Cockburn, Alexander, co-ed. with Jeffrey St. Clair, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (AK Press, 2003, Oakland, CA).
- Dershowitz, Alan (11 November 2005). "Letters". Retrieved 7 October 2006.
- Cockburn, Alexander (26 September 2003). "Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist?". Archived from the original on 5 December 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2006.
- Cockburn, Alexander (26 September 2003). "When Divas Collide: Maureen Dowd v. Judy Miller". Archived from the original on 5 November 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2006.
- The Hazards of Making The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, JBooks.Com Promotional Interview, Retrieved 29 April 2006
- Cockburn, Alexander, "Nutty Professor Screams About 'Plot' Against Him, Cites Troika of Evil", 28–30 May 2005, Finkelstein website. Retrieved 29 April 2006
- Cockburn, Alexander (12 March 2002). "When Billy Graham Planned To Kill One Million People". Counterpunch.
- Cockburn, Alexander (13 March 2002). "Billy Graham: War Criminal". New York Press. Archived from the original on 25 August 2006. Retrieved 6 October 2006.
- James Warren (28 February 2002). "Nixon, Billy Graham make derogatory comments about Jews on tapes". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
- "Nixon, Billy Graham target Jews on tape". St. Petersburg Times. 2 March 2002. Retrieved 6 October 2006.
- Greenberg, David (12 March 2002). "Nixon and the Jews. Again.". Slate. Retrieved 6 October 2006.
- Waters, Clay (16 July 2003). "Kristof’s Conspiratorial Sources". TimesWatch. Media Research Center. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
- Fields, Suzanne (25 June 2002). "The multiple faces of anti-Semitism". Jewish World Review. Retrieved 24 November 2006.
- Cockburn, Alexander, "My Life as an 'Anti-Semite'", The Politics of Anti-Semitism (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) AK Press, 2003, Oakland, CA, pp.21–22.
- Cockburn, Alexander, "Who are the real fascists: Marine Le Pen – or the United States?" The Week, 3 May 2012
- Cockburn, Alexander (20 August 2005). "Can Cindy Sheehan Stop the War?". CounterPunch. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Cockburn, Alexander (24 August 2005). "Hitchens Backs Down". CounterPunch. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "C-SPAN Q&A: Christopher Hitchens – Transcript". C-SPAN. 26 April 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Cockburn, Alexander (16–18 December 2011). "Farewell to C.H.". Counterpunch. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Nichols, John, "Alexander Cockburn and the Radical Power of the Word", thenation.com, 21 July 2012, accessed 22 July 2012
- St. Clair, Jeffrey (21 July 2012). "Farewell, Alex, My Friend". Counterpunch. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Alexander Cockburn|
- CounterPunch website
- Column archive at Creators Syndicate
- Column archive at The Nation
- Column archive (1974–1982) at The New York Review of Books
- Podcasts of Cockburn's recent articles
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Alexander Cockburn at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about Alexander Cockburn in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Alexander Cockburn at the Notable Names Database