Alexander Cockburn

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Person.png Alexander Cockburn   WikiquoteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(editor, journalist)
Alexander cockburn 2.jpg
BornAlexander Claud Cockburn
6 June 1941
Died21 July 2012 (Age 71)
Bad Salzhausen, Germany
CitizenshipAmerican,  Irish
Parents • Claude Cockburn
• Patricia Cockburn
ChildrenDaisy Cockburn
Siblings • Patrick Cockburn
• Andrew Cockburn
Member ofThe Nation, The Unz Review
Leftist journalist with a sense of humor and diverse range of opinions. A great read.

Alexander Claud Cockburn (pronounced 'Couburn') was a Scottish-born Irish-American political journalist and writer. Cockburn was brought up by British parents 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.

Political views and activities

As a writer, Cockburn was a lifelong leftist and was one of the few journalists in the US to identify openly as a Marxist, socialist, and in later years, an anarchist.[1] Although Cockburn was not generally predictable in his writing and tended to take controversial positions, there were a number of consistent themes in his political writing, among them:

At times acerbic, Cockburn could 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.[7]

Anti-war positions

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."[8][9] In an interview with C-SPAN in 1987 Cockburn was questioned by a caller on this statement and he explained that "it was a part of a satirical piece which was tasteless."[10] He went on to say, "I would ask you to look at some of the Mujahideen and how they treat women. They have virtual slavery of women. They are in favour of the bride price. And I think a lot of people don't have the slightest idea about social conditions in Afghanistan."[10] When asked about the same article on Afghanistan in 1995, Cockburn stated, "I shouldn't have written it ... it was a joke."[11] He later became an opponent of the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.[12]

On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 killing 290 passengers and Cockburn set out to cover the story with Ken Silverstein. The Pentagon claimed that the incident came about because the USS Vincennes misidentified the Airbus A300 for an F-14 Tomcat about to attack.[13] Cockburn challenged this account in his column for The Wall Street Journal. Later, Cockburn and Ken Silverstein would research and co-author an article on the incident for Harper's Magazine in September 1988. The Harper's piece concluded, "A pair of binoculars could have told the officers of the Vincennes what was flying overhead. But binoculars don't cost half a billion dollars. The more complex the weaponry, the deeper the pork barrel and the more swollen the bottom line."[14][15]

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.[16]

At times, Cockburn displayed prescience in his writing. On September 12, 2001, he wrote, "The targets abroad will be all the usual suspects: rogue states (most of which, like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, started off as creatures of US intelligence). The target at home will be the Bill of Rights."[17] Cockburn went on to join the opposition to the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq by American, British and other national military forces (the self-described "Coalition of the Willing"). He forged alliances with libertarians and others concerned by the USA Patriot Act. 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 sham, conducted by a "kangaroo court," and that Hussein's conviction and ultimate execution were foregone conclusions.[16]

Opposition to conspiracy theories

Alexander Cockburn was an opponent of conspiracism, particularly in regard to the 9/11 conspiracy theories, interpreted its rise as a sign of the decline of the American Left.[18] At CounterPunch Cockburn and St. Clair ran articles by Manual Garcia, a physicist, on the events of September 11, 2001, challenging the conspiracy theories that have been circling since the attacks.[19] In 1993, Cockburn criticized Janet Reno's prosecution of ritual abuse in the Country Walk case.[20]

In an interview with Tao Ruspoli, Cockburn said, "No doubt about it, since I got here in the early 70s things have gone downhill. The Left is in terrible shape. What's the leading obsession of the Left right now? This whole, I think, mad idea that Bush and Cheney organised the attack on the World Trade Towers. I think it's absolutely insane. I think [Bush and Cheney] are capable of monstrous evil, I just think the theories they have—of no plane hitting the Pentagon—is nutty. It's like flying saucers."[21] He noted that his friend Chuck Spinney had a friend on the plane who was later identified by his dental records because his teeth were found inside the Pentagon. Cockburn writes, "This doesn't faze the conspiracists. They're immune to any reality check. Spinney "worked for the government." They switched the dental records. The Boeing 757 was flown to Nebraska for a rendezvous with President Bush, who shot the passengers, burned the bodies on the tarmac and gave Spinney's friend's teeth to Dick Cheney to drop through a hole in his trousers amid the debris in the Pentagon."[18]

Earlier, Cockburn had been moved to present rebuttals to the JFK assassination conspiracy theories portrayed in the Oliver Stone film JFK when it came out in 1991. He wrote in 1993 that "In all the assassinology I've read or seen, Oswald is always unpersuasive. In JFK Oliver Stone hadn't the slightest idea how to portray him, which pointed up the weakness of his artistic insight and the preposterous premises on which it was based."[22] He interpreted the assassination as an attempt by Lee Harvey Oswald, whom he deemed a leftist, to "take the pressure off Fidel Castro," and to that end it was successful at the level of the propaganda of the deed, Cockburn claims, because Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, later "suspended the CIA assassination bids" against Castro. He reiterated this view at a conference in 2010.[23]

Although an opponent of the 9/11 Truth movement and the JFK assassination theories, when it comes to the possibility of prior knowledge of an attack on Pearl Harbor Cockburn maintained 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."[24]

Free speech

In his writing Cockburn was a consistent exponent of free speech. On the campaign trail of 2004 Cockburn wrote, "Free speech counts most when it's most risky. If you used the word 'Palestinian' in any public place when I first arrived in New York in the early 1970s you risked being punched in the face."[25] When it came to 'political correctness' in the early 1990s Cockburn was critical, though he often stressed that the term had its origins as an in-joke on the Left in the 70s. He took a critical stance on hate speech legislation and wrote in 2009, "America is well on its way to making it illegal to say anything nasty about gays, Jews, blacks and women. 'Hate speech,' far short of any direct incitement to violence, is on the edge of being criminalized, with the First Amendment gone the way of the dodo."[26]

Gun advocacy

In 1995, Cockburn wrote approvingly of a right-wing Patriot rally against gun control in Macomb County, Michigan.[27] Cockburn claimed that political leftists should make common cause with the Patriot activists, saying "these young workers should be getting decent radical analysis and some respectful attention."[27] Later in the article, Cockburn also accused left-wing journalists of exaggerating the threat the militia movement posed to American society: "There's a post-Oklahoma City cottage industry in left/prog journalism, featuring the whole of redneck or working-class America as part of some vast Neo-Nazi or KKK network, thus giving an agreeable 'frisson' to the genteel reader."[7][27][28][29]

At a promotional event for his book 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (2000), Cockburn was asked about his position on the Second Amendment. He answered, "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."[30] He was subsequently asked if he was opposed to all forms of gun control, to which he replied, "I think people shouldn't carry Howitzers."[30]

In the aftermath of the 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." He advocated instead to arm hall-monitors and appropriately screen teachers and cited the instance of the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in which the shooter was disarmed by students after killing three faculty members.[31]

Green issues

By the late-1980s, Cockburn had turned his attention to the deforestation of the Amazon basin and the response to it by the conservation movement at the time. Alongside Susanna Hecht, Cockburn wrote The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon (1989) in which they criticized environmentalists for disregarding indigenous rights, highlighting the Yanomami people in particular, and challenged the European belief that the Amazon was "virgin forest." Cockburn and Hecht estimated that there may have been as many as 12 million people living in the Amazon basin when Europeans first arrived in 1500.[32]

Cockburn remained steadfast on other environmental concerns, such as conservation of the Great Lakes and stopping the agricultural run-off of pesticides into the lakes.[33] He was highly critical of the catalytic converter out of concern for the environmental impact, claiming "In the combustion process this sulfur is rendered into sulfur dioxide, which, as it crosses the platinum in the catalytic converter, becomes sulfur trioxide, which, with the addition of water (another consequence of gasoline combustion), becomes sulfuric acid."[34] 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.[35]

Global warming

In contrast, the development of Cockburn's position on global warming was different; he believed the phenomenon has not been proven to be caused by humans.[36] In 2008, Cockburn wrote A Short History of Fear in which he went after the subject of anthropogenic global warming and later writing in Spiked that "you can account for the current warming by a number of well-known factors—to do with the elliptical course of the Earth in its relationship to the sun, the axis of the Earth in the current period, and possibly the influence of solar flares."[37]

Cockburn was critical of the "greenhouse" explanation for warming by positing that it is incongruous with the laws of physics, specifically the second law of thermodynamics.[38] He cited the research of Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf Tscheuschner's Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics.[39]


When asked about his standpoint on illegal immigration in 2007 Alexander Cockburn said, "It is fundamentally wrong for a country, such as the United States, to have a lot of its economy posited on labour, demanding labour, which they then cause to be 'illegal'," and went on to claim that "Californian agriculture would collapse without 'illegal' immigrant labour. 'Illegal' in the words of the state."[40] He criticised neoliberal reforms like free trade, "which destroy Mexican agriculture" through dumping American and Canadian corn in Mexico; as well as the denial of land reform citing examples such as Honduras and Guatemala. He elaborated, "Gradually you make it impossible in the Southern countries for a peasantry to survive and make a go of it," and concluded that this process has left people in Mexico, Central and South America little choice except to find work in the United States.[40]

In May 2012, Cockburn wrote 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."[41] This was interpreted by some as a defense of the National Front. Cockburn went on to state that "Marine Le Pen certainly has made some unsavoury comments about immigrants and Islamisation. But she has gone to the heart of the matter, asserting that monetary union cannot be fudged, that it is incompatible with the French nation-state." He went on to claim that Le Pen won 18% of the vote by campaigning to pull France out of the euro and, with reference to a poll finding only 3% of French voters consider immigration the main issue, that the National Front cannot owe its popularity to the issue. Rather, Cockburn stressed, "The number-one issue is employment."[41]

Israel 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.[42] Cockburn was accused of anti-Semitism, which he always denied. He considered it an example of the use of that accusation to intimidate criticism of Israel and avert attention from Israel's policies.[43] After a 2012 editorial in The Guardian supportive of Cockburn that describes him as one of the "pillars of progressive journalism", Adam Levick of Algermier said that Cockburn asserted in a CounterPunch article "that Jews have a stranglehold on the U.S. media".[44][original source would be better]

A 2002 article on anti-Semitic remarks by Reverend Billy Graham[45] reprinted elsewhere,[46] 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.[47][48][49] 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:[50]

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.

In his ironically entitled essay "My Life as an "Anti-Semite", from pages 21–22 of The Politics of Anti-Semitism (2003), 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." He went on to add, "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."[42]

Occupy Wall Street

With the emergence of the Occupy movement in 2011, Cockburn expressed support. "Its strength lies in the simplicity and truth of its basic message: the few are rich, the many are poor. In terms of its pretensions, the capitalist system has failed." He elaborated: "Right now most people love OWS. The Financial Times ran an editorial in favour of it. But in the end, to reform finance capital you have to offend people and institutions, including the Financial Times."

In July 2012, shortly before his death, Cockburn noted, "Questions of organization were obliterated by the strength of the basic message—we are 99 per cent, they are one per cent. It was probably the most successful slogan since 'peace, land, bread'." Though he ultimately felt his earlier cynicism had been confirmed, he stated, "Before the fall came there were heroic actions, people battered senseless by the police. These were brave people trying to hold their ground."[51]


Documents by Alexander Cockburn

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)
Document:How Megrahi and Libya were framed for Lockerbiearticle22 July 2010Pan Am Flight 103/The Trial
Margaret Thatcher
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
Edwin Bollier
Lockerbie Bombing/Official Narrative
Erwin Meister
Document:Riots and the Underclasswebpage12 August 20112011 England riots


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)
Document:Left-leaning Despisers of the 9-11 Truth Movementopen letter6 July 2010David Ray Griffin


  5. {
  7. a b
  8. "Iowa and Afghanistan" by Alexander Cockburn. Press Clips. Village Voice 21 January 1980
  9. Bérubé, Michael F. (2009). The Left at War. New York City: NYU Press. p. 261. ISBN 0814791476.
  10. a b
  12. Bérubé, p. 261
  16. a b Cockburn, Alexander, The Free Press – Independent News Media, 2/2000.
  17. Cockburn, Alexander (2013). A Colossal Wreck: A Road trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture. New York City: Verso Books. pp. 201–202.
  18. a b
  22. Cockburn, A; The Golden Age Is In Us: Journeys and Encounters, Verso Books, 1995, pp. 352–353.
  27. a b c Cockburn, Alexander (12 June 1995). "Who's Left? Who's Right?". The Nation.
  30. a b
  37. {
  40. a b
  41. a b
  42. a b
  47., Billy Graham make derogatory comments about Jews on tapes
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