Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012)

Although I soured on Cockburn in recent years, I must say he strongly influenced my political thinking when I was young. I first discovered him in the pages of Harper’s and then in The Nation. He wrote in a bold, brash, uninhibited manner that stood out against the wishy-washy liberalism of most of The Nations‘s writers. Even then he sometimes sounded like a bit of a crank, but more often his observations were spot on. He could also be quite funny at times, an all too rare quality among left-wing journalists. The columns by him and by Christopher Hitchens were often the only things worth reading. The two of them shaped my ideas about the world, though ironically they both led me in directions that I think they would have disapproved of.

I was a devoted reader of CounterPunch in the early 2000’s, mainly because of its uncompromising opposition to the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but also because it took a strong stand against the 9/11 conspiracy nonsense that was then threatening to swamp the U.S. left. Imagine my dismay then, when Cockburn, using logic similar to that used by the 9/11 Truthers, announced that global warming was a conspiracy, a vast global plot that apparently went all the way back to Fourier. I never met Cockburn, but I know a woman who grew up in Petrolia who used to dog-sit for him. She told me she was convinced that his climate change denial had something to do with his collection of vintage automobiles.

I grew tired of CounterPunch after a few years. Too many of the articles were either crankery or simply badly written. I must say that Cockburn’s death doesn’t surprise me, because the quality of his writing declined sharply during the last year of his life. (He reached a low point when he wrote a teary-eyed eulogy for Moammar Khadafy.) It was clear to me that something wasn’t right. His best writings, though, will be remembered.

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