Commentary Magazine


Remembering Cockburn’s Heresies

In the last two decades, as a generation of leftists left this veil of tears, the obituary page of the New York Times has become the last redoubt of Stalin’s American fellow travelers. Sendoffs for Marxist writers and activists have consistently played down their red ties and portrayed them as  heroic and stalwart defenders of principle whose past support for mass murderers is a mere detail best forgotten and therefore usually unmentioned. However, the Times’ appreciation of polemicist Alexander Cockburn was a slightly different variation on that theme.

Instead of just playing down Cockburn’s vicious hatred for Israel which opened him up for justified accusations of anti-Semitism, the nation’s newspaper of record also decided to ignore the cause to which the writer had devoted much of his last years: his disagreement with advocates of global warming.

As John Fund writes over at National Review Online, Cockburn’s denunciation of global warming as a fraud (led by what he termed as that “hypocritical mountebank” Al Gore) constituted a genuine heresy from his longtime leftism. Fund believes that had Cockburn not fallen ill, he might have helped generate a genuine debate about the issue. That would have been interesting, and Cockburn deserves credit for not being one more leftist sheep following the ideological party line on this issue. But I think Fund is probably being a bit too generous when he says, “Conservatives should recognize that he was getting more and more things ‘right’ toward the end.”

Fund, who got to know him when he was his editor at the Wall Street Journal, rightly acknowledges that Cockburn was a “fierce and often irrational critic of everything to do with Israel.” But the irrationality was not just your garden-variety left-wing distaste for Zionism. His Counterpunch website was denounced by Alan Dershowitz and others for promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Cockburn’s sly comments about the “nasty stories about Jews sloshing around the press” helped publicize 9/11 truther lies while allowing him to profess his neutrality about the subject.

In Cockburn’s case, the Times’ obit did mention, at least in passing, his attempts to minimize Stalin’s mass murders as well as the fact that he was fired from the Village Voice for being paid by an anti-Israel group. But it left the discussion of anti-Semitism on the cutting room floor along with any mention of his heresy on global warming. The newspaper generally likes its dead leftist heroes untainted by accusations of anti-Semitism. But it’s clear they can’t tolerate any discussion of their deviations from the current orthodoxy on climate change.