Alexander Cockburn

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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander cockburn 2.jpg
Born Alexander Claud Cockburn
6 June 1941 (1941-06-06) (age 77)
Family Claud Cockburn
Notable relatives Andrew Cockburn, Patrick Cockburn, Olivia Wilde
Notable credit(s) CounterPunch, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times

Alexander Claud Cockburn (pronounced koh-burn), born June 6, 1941, is an Irish-American political journalist. Cockburn was brought up in Ireland but has lived and worked in the United States since 1972. Together with Jeffrey St. Clair, he edits the political newsletter CounterPunch. Cockburn also writes the "Beat the Devil" column for The Nation and a weekly syndicated column for the Los Angeles Times as well as for The First Post.

Life and career

Born in Scotland, Cockburn grew up in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland, eldest son of the well-known sometime Communist author and journalist, Claud Cockburn by third wife Patricia Byron, née Arbuthnot (who also wrote an autobiography, Figure of Eight). He has two younger brothers, Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, who are also journalists, and a half-sister, mystery writer Sarah Caudwell. In addition, journalists Laura Flanders and Stephanie Flanders are his half-nieces, daughters of his half-brother-in-law Michael Flanders, and actress Olivia Wilde is his niece, daughter of his sister-in-law Leslie Cockburn. After studying at Glenalmond College, an independent boy's boarding school in Perthshire, Scotland, and at the Keble College, Oxford, Cockburn worked in London as a reporter and commentator.

After moving to the United States, Cockburn wrote extensively for numerous publications, including The New York Review of Books, Esquire, and Harper's. Until 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."[1][2] His defenders charge that his criticism of Israeli policies was behind the firing. Cockburn has said that he left the Voice upon being offered a regular column in The Nation called "Beat the Devil" (after the title of a novel by his father). Since leaving the Voice he has also written columns for the Wall Street Journal, New York Press and the New Statesman.

Themes and opinions

There have been a number of consistent themes in Cockburn's political writing, among them:

Aside from the perspectives described above, Cockburn has others outside the U.S. mainstream. For example, he has criticized the German government for passing restrictive laws against the Church of Scientology, invoking several comparisons with National Socialist 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.[7]

Cockburn's viewpoint on Iraq, in particular during the rule of Saddam Hussein, was one not often seen in mainstream U.S. publications. He 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.[8]

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.[9]

In contrast, Cockburn's position on global warming is consistent with views usually held on the right. He believes the phenomenon has not been proven to be caused by humans,[10] citing the statements of Dr. 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.[11] In fact, Hertzberg is a semi-retired explosives expert who does not claim to be a climatologist.[12] This has prompted accusations that Cockburn is not consulting with and deferring to the appropriate experts, much as he complains that 9/11 conspiracy theorists don't defer to the NIST.[13]

Cockburn also has been critical of the author of the Green Revolution. 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 has criticized Borlaug previously on this issue.[14]

At times acerbic, Cockburn can also be gently and humorously ironic, once declaring Gerald Ford America's greatest president for doing the least damage and praising the Lewinsky scandal's entertainment value.[15] 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 Bonaparte. He replied that he wasn't sure about Bush as Napoleon, "though surely Josephine's heart beats beneath Laura's delicious bosom."[16]

Cockburn and anti-Semitism

Cockburn has written a great deal on the use of anti-Semitism accusations in modern politics, particularly by the state of Israel and its supporters, and has co-edited a book on the subject, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.[17] Cockburn himself has also been accused of anti-Semitism, which he denies and considers 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 is Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. In November 2005, Dershowitz wrote to the National Catholic Reporter that Cockburn's Counterpunch web site was anti-Semitic.[18] 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,[19] and, in October 2005, of supporting torture.[20] Cockburn and Dershowitz have each denied the other's charges. Dershowitz has also claimed that Cockburn has been one of three writers (along with Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky) who are engaged in an attempt to discredit him, which Cockburn has also denied.[21][22]

A 2002 Cockburn article on anti-Semitic remarks by Reverend Billy Graham[23] reprinted elsewhere,[24] 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.[25][26][27] 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.

His critics quoted the final passage, reproduced below, to accuse Cockburn of spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories:[28][29]

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 (Mohammed) Atta and his associates, knew what was going to happen but did nothing about it, or were simply spying on US facilities.

One of the Cockburn critics was Franklin Foer of The New Republic, who first noted Cockburn's response:

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 is his ironically entitled essay My Life as an "Anti-Semite", from the The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Cockburn writes:

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.[30]

Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is often mentioned in connection with Cockburn because of their similar origins (Cockburn from Ireland, Hitchens from England), similar educational background, both being columnists at The Nation, and their one-time friendship. Hitchens' ideological differences on various issues has caused a bitter falling out between the two. Beyond issues such as the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the split also involves ethical disputes involving writers such as Sidney Blumenthal and Edward Said. In a Counterpunch article in August 2005, Cockburn attacked 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."[31] Hitchens responded by withdrawing his criticism of Sheehan, but he defended his deposition to House prosecutors regarding Blumenthal during the Clinton impeachment 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).[32]


  • 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

Compact disc

  • Beating the Devil: The Incendiary Rants of Alexander Cockburn


  1. "Village Voice Suspends Alexander Cockburn Over $10,000 Grant". Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones): p. 12. 18 January 1984. 
  2. "This Year in New York History: A Voice Timeline". The Village Voice 50th Anniversary Special. Village Voice (2006). Retrieved on 2006-08-22.
  3. The Anti-War Movement and Its Critics, Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, 14 November 2002, accessed 29 April 2006
  4. Hitch the Snitch, Editorial, CounterPunch, 1999, accessed 29 April 2006
  5. Debunking the Myths of 9/11, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch, November 28, 2006
  6. *(English) Distractions from awful reality - US: the conspiracy that wasn’t, by Alexander Cockburn in Le Monde diplomatique, December 2006 *(French)Scepticisme ou occultisme? Le complot du 11-Septembre n’aura pas lieu, by Alexander Cockburn in Le Monde diplomatique, December 2006 *Iranian translation *(Portuguese) PODERES IMAGINÁRIOS - A "conspiração" das Torres Gêmeas
  7. About Scientologists Take Offensive In Reich Land Statement From The Church Of Scientology
  8. The Free Press - Independent News Media - Alexander Cockburn
  9. The Free Press - Independent News Media - Alexander Cockburn
  10. Is Global Warming a Sin?
  11. ZNet presents a debate about Global Warming between Alexander Cockburn and George Monbiot. Znet (2007).
  12. Martin Hertzberg, Ph D
  13. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair: Debunking the Myths of 9/11
  14. The Real Al Gore
  15. Prostration before reaction, David Walsh, World Socialist Web Site, 2 September 1998, accessed 29 April 2006
  16. The extreme sport of insult, Reported by John Leo, 22 December 2003, in US News and World Report online
  17. The Politics of Anti-Semitism (co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair) AK Press, 2003, Oakland, CA,
  18. Dershowitz, Alan (11 November 2005). Letters. Retrieved on 7 October 2006.
  19. Cockburn, Alexander (26 September 2003). Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist?. Retrieved on 23 November 2006.
  20. Cockburn, Alexander (26 September 2003). When Divas Collide: Maureen Dowd v. Judy Miller. Retrieved on 23 November 2006.
  21. The Hazards of Making The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, JBooks.Com Promotional Interview, accessed 29 April 2006
  22. Nutty Professor Screams About "Plot" Against Him, Cites Troika of Evil, Alexander Cockburn, 28-30 May 2005, Norman Finkelstein website, accessed 29 April 2006
  23. Cockburn, Alexander (12 March 2002). When Billy Graham Planned To Kill One Million People. Counterpunch.
  24. Cockburn, Alexander (13 March 2002). Billy Graham: War Criminal. New York Press. Retrieved on 6 October 2006.
  25. Warren, James (28 February 2002). [? Nixon, Billy Graham make derogatory comments about Jews on tapes]. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved on 6 October 2006.
  26. Nixon, Billy Graham target Jews on tape. St. Petersburg Times (2 March 2002). Retrieved on 6 October 2006.
  27. Greenberg, David (12 March 2002). Nixon and the Jews. Again.. Slate. Retrieved on 6 October 2006.
  28. Waters, Clay (16 July 2003). Kristof’s Conspiratorial Sources. TimesWatch. Media Research Center. Retrieved on 2006-07-20.
  29. Fields, Suzanne (25 June 2002). [ The multiple faces of anti-Semitism]. Jewish World Review. Retrieved on 2006-11-24.
  30. Alexander Cockburn, "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
  31. Can Cindy Sheehan Stop the War?. Counterpunch (20 August 2005).
  32. Hitchens Backs Down. Counterpunch (24 August 2005).

External link