Alexander Cockburn

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Alexander Cockburn
Cockburn in 2007
Alexander Claud Cockburn

(1941-06-06)6 June 1941
Died21 July 2012(2012-07-21) (aged 71)
CitizenshipAmerican, Irish
Occupation(s)Journalist, author
Notable credit(s)CounterPunch, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times
SpouseEmma Tennant (m. 1968; div. 1973)
Parent(s)Claud Cockburn
Patricia Cockburn

Alexander Claud Cockburn (/ˈkbərn/ KOH-bərn; 6 June 1941 – 21 July 2012) was a Scottish-born Irish-American political journalist and writer. Cockburn was brought up by British parents in Ireland, but lived and worked in the United States from 1972. Together with Jeffrey St. Clair, he edited the political newsletter CounterPunch. Cockburn also wrote the "Beat the Devil" column for The Nation, and another column for The Week in London, syndicated by Creators Syndicate.


Alexander Cockburn was born on June 6, 1941, in Scotland and grew up in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland. He was the eldest son of journalist, Claud Cockburn, a former Communist author, and his third wife, Patricia Byron, née Arbuthnot. (She wrote an autobiography, Figure of Eight). His ancestral family included Sir George Cockburn, 10th Baronet, who was responsible for the burning of Washington, DC in the War of 1812.[1] His two younger brothers, Andrew Cockburn and Patrick, are also journalists.

His half-sister, Sarah Caudwell, a barrister and mystery writer, died in 2000. His half-sister Claudia Cockburn and her husband Michael Flanders have two daughters, who are both journalists: Laura and Stephanie Flanders. Actress Olivia Wilde is the daughter of his brother Andrew. [1]

Cockburn grew up between his family home in Ireland and Glenalmond College, an independent boys' boarding school, in Perthshire, Scotland. He later studied English at Keble College, University of Oxford.[2]


United Kingdom[edit]

Cockburn graduated from Oxford in 1963, after which he worked at the New Left Review, becoming its managing editor in 1966. He was also assistant editor at the Times Literary Supplement, and in 1967 worked at New Statesman.[3] In 1967 Cockburn co-edited The Incompatibles: Trade Union Militancy and the Consensus with Robin Blackburn. Blackburn described the book as "[bringing] together trade-union organizers, leftwing journalists including Paul Foot, Marxist economists and two liberals—Michael Frayn and Philip Toynbee—who mocked the demonization of union activists by Labour as well as Conservative pundits."[3] In 1969 the pair co-edited Student Power: Problems, Diagnosis, Action, with contributors including Herbert Marcuse, Perry Anderson, and Tom Nairn.[3] In 1968, Cockburn published a letter to The Times supporting British socialists protesting the Vietnam War.[4]

United States[edit]

Cockburn moved to the United States in 1972 and lived there for the rest of his years. He contributed pieces to The New York Review of Books, Esquire, Harper's, and, from 1973 to 1983, The Village Voice. For the latter, he initiated the longstanding "Press Clips" column. His interview of Rupert Murdoch in The Voice preceded Murdoch's purchase of the paper.[5][6] James Ridgeway later noted that "Murdoch, when he owned the Voice, was said to gag on some of Alex's pointed epithets, but he never did anything about it."[7]

In 1975 Cockburn wrote Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death.[8] In 1979 Cockburn and Ridgeway co-wrote Political Ecology.[citation needed]

In 1982 Cockburn was suspended from The Voice for "accepting a $10,000 grant from an Arab studies organization in 1982."[9][10] In 1984, Cockburn became a regular contributor to The Nation with a column called "Beat the Devil", titled for the novel of the same name written by his father. During the 1980s Cockburn also contributed to the New York Press, the Los Angeles Times, the New Statesman, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, The Week, The Wall Street Journal, and Chronicles.[11]

In 1987, Cockburn completed the first of a series of books collecting columns, diary entries, letters, and essays dating from 1976, titled Corruptions of Empire; the cover featured a portrayal of Admiral George Cockburn torching the White House.[12] Follow-up books included The Golden Age Is In Us: Journeys and Encounters (1995) and A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption, and American Culture (2013).[13] In the 1990s Cockburn contributed to, and eventually became co-editor of, the newsletter CounterPunch.

Cockburn became a United States citizen in 2009.[1][14] He lived in New York City for many years, before moving to Petrolia in Humboldt County in northern California in 1992.[15]

Political views and activities[edit]

Anti-war positions[edit]

In a January 1980, Village Voice column, Cockburn criticized the US media's coverage of the Soviet–Afghan War, and described Afghanistan as "An unspeakable country filled with unspeakable people, sheepshaggers and smugglers ... I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it's Afghanistan."[16][17] Cockburn later said that his comments were "satirical," "tasteless,"[12] and that he "shouldn't have written it ... it was a joke."[18]

The USS Vincennes fired a missile in 1988 that brought down Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 people.[19] With Ken Silverstein, in reaction the two men co-wrote articles critical of the United States military and its commanders.[20][21] Cockburn also criticized economic and political sanctions imposed on the Iraqi government by the United Nations.[22] He said that such policies targeted "rogue states (most of which, like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, started off as creatures of US intelligence)."[23] After the September 11 attacks, he criticized the 2001 United States invasion of Afghanistan,[24] and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by United States-led forces.[22]

Opposition to conspiracy theories[edit]

Cockburn opposed conspiracism, particularly in regard to 9/11 conspiracy theories. He interpreted the rise of these ideas as a sign of the decline of the American Left.[25][26] Cockburn also criticized conspiracy theories related to the 1963 assassination of US president Kennedy[27] and the Country Walk case.[28] He did suggest in writing that the US government had prior knowledge of the 1941 Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor.[26]

Support of US constitutional rights[edit]

External videos
video icon Digital Commons discussion. Battle of Ideas 2007, Royal College of Art, London.

Cockburn supported free speech, writing that "Free speech counts most when it's most risky".[29] He said, "America is well on its way to making it illegal to say anything nasty about gays, Jews, blacks and women [...] with the First Amendment gone the way of the dodo."[30] Cockburn wrote approvingly of the right-wing Patriot movement and militia rallies.[31][32]

Asked about his position on the Second Amendment and gun control, Cockburn said, "a native Mexican turkey wandered onto my property in Humboldt County, unaware that the California Fish and Game regulations permitted a window of vulnerability for the aforementioned wild turkey. I then proceeded to my 12-gauge and brought that turkey down, thirteen and a half pounds, plucked it, drew it, and ate it, with my loved ones as they say," but also said "I think that people shouldn't carry Howitzers."[33] Following the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Cockburn wrote, "There have been the usual howls from the anti-gun lobby, but it's all hot air. America is not about to dump the Second Amendment giving people the right to bear arms."[34]

Social topics[edit]

Among other social topics, Cockburn wrote extensively about his opposition to “scaremongering” about illegal immigration to the United States,[35][36][37][38] anti-Semitism and use of anti-Semitism accusations in modern politics[39][40][41] (for which he received criticism),[42][43][44] and his support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.[45][46] Cockburn also wrote about same-sex marriage[35][47] and Scientology.[35][48]

Personal life and death[edit]

In December 1968, Cockburn married writer Emma Tennant; their daughter Daisy Alice Cockburn was born in February 1969.[49] Cockburn and Tennant divorced in 1973.

Cockburn had a complicated personal and professional relationship with British author and journalist Christopher Hitchens. Robin Blackburn commented that Cockburn “sort of invented Christopher. He showed him what could be done."[50][51][52]

Cockburn died on 21 July 2012, in Bad Salzhausen, Germany, age 71, after suffering from cancer for two years.[53]

In CounterPunch, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote, "[Cockburn] didn't want the disease to define him. He didn't want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn't want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done. Alex wanted to keep living his life right to the end."[54]


External videos
video icon White Out: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. Cockburn discussed his book about the CIA's alleged involvement with the illicit drug trade in Los Angeles, California. Book TV on C-SPAN, September 25, 1998.



Book reviews

Audio/spoken word


  • Chomsky, Noam. "Models, Nature, and Language." Interview with Alexander Cockburn. Grand Street, no. 50 (Autumn 1994), pp. 170–176. doi:10.2307/25007794. JSTOR 25007794.


  1. ^ a b c Colin Moynihan (21 July 2012). "Alexander Cockburn, Left-Wing Writer, Is Dead at 71". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  2. ^ Godfrey Hodgson (22 July 2012). "Alexander Cockburn obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 January 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Robin Blackburn (July–August 2012). "Alexander Cockburn 1941–2012". New Left Review. II (76). New Left Review. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  4. ^ David Widgery, The Left in Britain, 1956-68, Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1976. ISBN 0140550992 (p. 387-88).
  5. ^ ""Murdoch's NY Deals" | 1976–1977". The Pop History Dig. Archived from the original on 8 February 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  6. ^ Adam Curtis (30 January 2011). "Rupert Murdoch A Portrait of Satan". BBC Blog. Archived from the original on 26 March 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  7. ^ Ridgeway, James (23 July 2012). "Remembering Alexander Cockburn". Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  8. ^ "In Depth with Alexander Cockburn". C-SPAN. 1 April 2007. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  9. ^ "Village Voice Suspends Alexander Cockburn Over $10,000 Grant". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones. 18 January 1984. p. 12.
  10. ^ "This Year in New York History: A Voice Timeline". The Village Voice 50th Anniversary Special. Village Voice. 2006. Archived from the original on 19 September 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2006.
  11. ^ Alexander Cockburn (16 March 2009). "How the Networks Went into the Drug Peddling Business". Chronicles online edition. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2010.
  12. ^ a b "Journalism in U.S. and How Americans Receive World News". C-SPAN. 17 December 1987. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  13. ^ Verso. Verso Books. September 2014. ISBN 9781781682951. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 20 November 2017. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Alexander Cockburn (19 June 2009). "I Become an American". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 22 June 2009.
  15. ^ Daisy Cockburn: Painting in My Father's Garden Archived 4 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  16. ^ "Iowa and Afghanistan" by Alexander Cockburn. Press Clips. Village Voice 21 January 1980
  17. ^ Bérubé, Michael F. (2009). The Left at War. New York City: NYU Press. p. 261. ISBN 978-0814791479.
  18. ^ Shafer, Jack (5 July 1995). "The Tale of an Asp". SF Weekly. Archived from the original on 13 January 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  19. ^ Aspin, Les (18 November 1988). "Witness to Iran Flight 655". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 March 2019. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  20. ^ Silverstein, Ken (25 July 2012). "A "Brilliant Life: Remembering Alexander Cockburn"". Harper's Magazine. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  21. ^ Cockburn, Alexander; Silverstein, Ken (September 1988). "The System That Brought Down Flight 655". Harper's Magazine. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  22. ^ a b Cockburn, Alexander, The Free Press – Independent News Media Archived 8 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine, 2/2000.
  23. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (2013). A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture. New York City: Verso Books. pp. 201–202.
  24. ^ Bérubé, p. 261
  25. ^ "The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left". CounterPunch. 28 November 2006. Archived from the original on 19 January 2022. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  26. ^ a b Cockburn, Alexander; St. Clair, Jeffrey. "Debunking the Myths of 9/11". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 19 January 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2006.
  27. ^ Cockburn, A; The Golden Age Is In Us: Journeys and Encounters, Verso Books, 1995, pp. 352–353.
  28. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (8 March 1993). "Janet Reno's Coerced Confession" (PDF). The Nation. pp. 296–297. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Alt URL Archived 27 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (16 October 2004). "The Free Speech Movement and Howard Stern". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  30. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (26–28 June 2010). "The Hate Crimes Bill: How Not to Remember Matthew Shepard". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  31. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (12 June 1995). "Who's Left? Who's Right?". The Nation.
  32. ^ Raimondo, Justin (23 July 2012). "Alexander Cockburn, RIP". Anti-War. Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2014. "...when Bill Clinton was targeting the alleged danger posed by the militia movement in the 1990s, Cockburn defended them, likened them to the Zapatistas, and described one militia rally he attended as "amiable""...
  33. ^ "[Five Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond] |". Archived from the original on 30 March 2022. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  34. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (19 April 2007). "Lessons to be learned from the Virginia Tech shooting". The Week. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  35. ^ a b c "In Depth with Alexander Cockburn |". Archived from the original on 30 March 2022. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  36. ^ Cockburn, Alexander; Pollitt, Katha (12 February 2010). "Exchange: Katha Pollitt and Alexander Cockburn on Hispanic Crime Rates". The Nation. Archived from the original on 5 November 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  37. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (5–7 March 2010). "The Bogus Hispanic Crime Wave". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  38. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (30 September – 2 October 2011). "The Republicans, Immigration and the Minimum Wage". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  39. ^ Cockburn, Alexander; St. Clair, Jeffrey (2003). The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Oakland, California: AK Press. ISBN 978-1-90259-377-7.
  40. ^ Alexander Cockburn (16 February 2002). "Israel and "Anti-Semitism"". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 23 January 2019. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  41. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (12 March 2002). "When Billy Graham Planned To Kill One Million People". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 1 November 2006.
  42. ^ Algemeiner, The. "Guardian Praises Anti-Semitic Site "CounterPunch" as Progressive". Archived from the original on 25 July 2021. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  43. ^ Dershowitz, Alan (11 November 2005). "Letters". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 7 October 2006.
  44. ^ Waters, Clay (16 July 2003). "Kristof's Conspiratorial Sources". Times Watch. Media Research Center. Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  45. ^ "Occupy MLK". james decker. 16 January 2012. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  46. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (6–8 July 2012). "Biggest Financial Scandal in Britain's History, Yet Not a Single Occupy Sign; What Happened?". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  47. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (18 May 2012). "Gay Marriage and the Shackles of Matrimony". Archived from the original on 18 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  48. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (15 June 2000). "About Scientologists Take Offensive In Reich Land". The Los Angeles Times.
  49. ^ Mosley, Charles (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, Clan Chiefs, Scottish Feudal Barons. Vol. 1 (107 ed.). London, England: Burke's Peerage & Gentry. pp. 107, 1571. ISBN 9780971196629. Archived from the original on 6 July 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  50. ^ "Remembering Alexander Cockburn". Frontline Club. 17 October 2013. Archived from the original on 30 September 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  51. ^ Cockburn, A; The Golden Age Is in Us: Journeys and Encounters, 1995, p. 112.
  52. ^ "C-SPAN Q&A: Christopher Hitchens – Transcript". C-SPAN. 26 April 2009. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  53. ^ Nichols, John (21 July 2012). "Alexander Cockburn and the Radical Power of the Word". The Nation. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  54. ^ St. Clair, Jeffrey (22 July 2012). "Farewell, Alex, My Friend". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2012.

External links[edit]