In 1977, during his Village Voice years (1973-84)
"Alexander reveled in being a troublemaker, and his provocative, polemical, elegant style usually engaged us and his reporting and analysis opened windows onto under-unreported news. I often felt I wasn't doing my job right if we didn't get a dozen or so subscription cancellations as a result of some Cockburn column."
-- Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation,
in an e-mail to the L.A. Times, quoted in the Times obit
"His legacy was his commitment to truth, his disgust at the pretense of objectivity, his belief that every piece of writing had an ideological slant, and that you had to admit it."
-- Nation contributing editor Amy Wilentz
(also from the L.A. Times obit)
We surely have to take some note of the passing of that most stalwart of left-wing journalists Alexander Cockburn on Saturday, at age 71, following what is now revealed to have been an extended and apparently grueling battle with cancer. As his partner at CounterPunch, Jeffrey St. Clair, explained to readers:
Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.That raises the grimness level of the news, but doesn't have anything to do with its complications for me.
Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He 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. He wanted to live on his terms. And he wanted to continue writing through it all, just as his brilliant father, the novelist and journalist Claud Cockburn had done. And so he did. His body was deteriorating, but his prose remained as sharp, lucid and deadly as ever.
In one of Alex?s last emails to me, he patted himself on the back (and deservedly so) for having only missed one column through his incredibly debilitating and painful last few months. Amid the chemo and blood transfusions and painkillers, Alex turned out not only columns for CounterPunch and The Nation and First Post, but he also wrote a small book called Guillotine and finished his memoirs, A Colossal Wreck, both of which CounterPunch plans to publish over the course of the next year.
Alex lived a huge life and he lived it his way. He hated compromise in politics and he didn?t tolerate it in his own life. Alex was my pal, my mentor, my comrade. We joked, gossiped, argued and worked together nearly every day for the last twenty years. He leaves a huge void in our lives. But he taught at least two generations how to think, how to look at the world, how to live a life of joyful and creative resistance. So, the struggle continues and we?re going to remain engaged. He wouldn?t have it any other way.
He courted the label "contrarian," but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair.
In recent years, Cockburn had receded from his previously prominent place in the public forum. "He had the intellectual firepower to do anything he wanted," said writer Marc Cooper, a former colleague who had a falling out with Cockburn. "He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist."
In 1994, Cockburn helped found Counterpunch, a newsletter and website, which spoke directly to those who shared his beliefs. Some, like Cooper, saw this as a rhetorical and intellectual dead end. Cockburn continued to co-edited Counterpunch with Jeffrey St. Clair.