Alexander Cockburn 1941-2012

The radical journalist died after a two-year struggle with cancer. His close colleague Jeffrey St. Clair said that he had kept his illness a tight secret, telling only his closest friends, not wanting to chronicle his own last days in the manner of Christopher Hitchens, his fellow British expatriate, one-time colleague, and later adversary when Hitchens abandoned his left-wing politics and joined up with the Bush administration and the neoconservatives in their warmongering.

I used to regularly read Cockburn’s columns in The Nation, and the website CounterPunch that he co-founded with St. Clair was something that I read every day as well as subscribing to the newsletter. (I published three articles there in 2003 about the Iraq war, here, here, and here.)

He was never mealy-mouthed or equivocal. I liked his no-holds-barred, go-for-the-jugular writing style, though it could be infuriating when it was aimed at the things you supported. He was a global warming skeptic for example, something that alienated a lot of allies. He was also scathing in his denunciations of mushy liberals, referring to them derisively as ‘pwogwessives’ or ‘pwogs’ for short, who bought into the notion that the Democratic party was left-wing and represented the poor.

We both shared an admiration of the great British humorist P. G. Wodehouse.

The Guardian has an obituary and James Wolcott has a nice personal appreciation.


  1. Steve says

    I also have to laugh at this name. I first encountered it during a software engineering course and wasn’t the only one who found it funny.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Steve – just for the record, he pronounced it koh-burn.

    Probably the family had met others who reacted as y’all did.

  3. Chiroptera says

    One of the main reasons I read the Nation was his and Katha Pollitt’s columns.

    I didn’t always agree with him, but, man, he was an enjoyable read. I especially enjoyed his skewering of Christopher Hitchens when he left the Nation in a huff.

    One thing I have to add, though: Cockburn was a AGW denialist. That made me take everything else he said with a grain of salt. Still, I enjoyed his columns over all.

  4. kobi says

    good riddance to bad rubbish. he won’t be missed on the sane left, but the loony left will be renting their clothes and donning sackcloth and ashes.

  5. slc1 says

    Re kobi @ #5

    Mr. Cockburn was also an unhinged critic of the State of Israel and apologist for the Palestinians. In his view, Israel could do no right and its opponents could do no wrong. I seem to recall that, at one point, he views were so extreme that the Nation magazine, certainly editorially no supporter of Israel, suspended him for a while. I haven’t followed him for a long time but I wonder what his views on the events in Syria were. Probably blamed the uprising on Israel, which not even the Assad government has done.

  6. MNb0 says

    Alexander Cockburn also wrote one of the most stupid books I have ever read: Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death from 1975. It’s a silly speculative Freudian analysis of the game, which sheds another light on his surname.
    Since then I always have had trouble to take him seriously.

  7. Peter says

    I will miss his honest, direct and passionate writing, always on behalf of the powerless, and especially intolerant of actors who pretended to be on their side, but who really were not. He had a problem with people who act hypocritically, especially those who are self-interested but who pretend not to be, like, for example, Hitchens. I feel sorry for those who are turned off because they disagree with an aspect of his work but who fail to see its totality. I disagreed with his viewpoint on global warming (I’m a science teacher, not a polemicist) – but he is probably correct in surmising that this crisis, whether pretend or real, will be used a la Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” to remove even more resources from the poor to benefit the rich.

  8. kuralssssp says

    Unfortunately Alex went to great lengths, extraordinary, to defend the indefensible. He deployed his skills to defend monsters such as Stalin, and to this one time inhabitant of India who has followed communists closely, Alex’s affected veneer barely concealed contempt for proponents of order, sanity, and liberalism. Like all columnists Alex could choose to ignore just about everything regarding fact and frequently took on extremist positions like a Lyndon LaRouche fan. In the end I just saw him as a dated reactionary

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