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Radical Journalist, Media Critic Alexander Cockburn Dies, 1941-2012

Web ExclusiveJuly 23, 2012

    Alexander Cockburn, the longtime journalist, columnist and publisher of the progressive website of news and analysis Counterpunch, has died at the age of 71. Cockburn was a prolific writer who authored columns over the years for the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal and The Nation magazine. Cockburn appeared on Democracy Now! several times including this 2003 appearance shortly after the publication of his book “The Politics of Anti-Semitism.”


    AMY GOODMAN:We are joined in our studio by Counterpunch editor and columnist for the Nation magazine, Alexander Cockburn recently back from London. His latest piece begins “This city is now recovering from the November visit of a global tyrant, on whose rampages the sun never sets. His name is not George Bush but Rupert Murdoch.” Cockburn writes further on: “…as an international operator, Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief, monopoly markets and so forth.” Welcome to Democracy Now! Alexander Cockburn.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Hi, Amy. How are you?

    AMY GOODMAN: Good. So talk a little bit more about Murdoch and his trip.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: He is the most powerful news mogul in the world. He has vast properties in the United States and Australia and Britain and the People’s Republic of China who, anytime anyone… Any time I look at O’Reilly thundering at people about democracy, just remember that Fox spends a lot of its time licking the boots of the butchers of Tianamen square. That’s what they do.

    Murdoch was in London to briefly announce… He was there to squash a revolt by his stockholders in one of his companies who said their interests weren’t being attended to, and also to announce in the next election he might support the conservatives rather than the Blair government.

    Then he made an amazing statement. He said, we — he uses the royal We quite a lot — “We don’t like the possible threat to our sovereignty by the provisions of the European Union.”

    And The Guardian pointed out this is a rather odd use of we since Murdoch adopted American citizenship, quite awhile ago, in the interest of commercial gain, as The Guardian pointed out. He’s a world citizen, a world pirate, of course, and a complete monster.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about his relationship with China?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: He has a satellite service there. He got the satellite service by licking the boots of the Chinese leadership.

    The whole point of Murdoch, as a good new book by Bruce Paige published in the U.K., not yet here — I hope it does — is that he essentially offers a service to governments, a privatized propaganda service. He says, if you give me regulatory relief, if you give me monopolies as Thatcher had done, as Reagan did, as Bush is doing, as these governments, I will propagandize in favor of your party. He has absolutely no beliefs except consummate greed in the bottom line. He’s a very conservative guy. He is completely cynical in the way that he allocates favor.

    In Britain, he says, now, I’m going to go and support the Tories in the next election unless he gets provisions. And The Guardian said and it’s absolutely true and Bruce said so in his book, that you are not looking at someone providing information even in the way that, let’s say, other news pirates do. His is strictly a quid pro quo Operation, for gain. That’s the Murdoch game. He’s a very dangerous guy. He’s one of the most dangerous people in the world.

    AMY GOODMAN: But certainly here in the United States, the growth of the Fox network is extremely political and ideological.


    AMY GOODMAN: He was willing to lose a tremendous amount of money like he does on the New York Post just to put forward that line.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Yes. Absolutely. It is a propaganda operation, but a propaganda operation always geared to getting these concessions and handouts from government.

    And in England, you know, he controls half of the news media market and in Australia he is enormously powerful. He has this position in China.

    AMY GOODMAN: What will Blair do to appease him?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Anything that he possibly can. It’s grotesque.

    I personally think a lot of people — the Murdoch press in England is ghastly, whether it’s “The Sun” or “The Times” and the whole thing — I think a lot of people don’t really care for him at all, but he has political leaders absolutely petrified. I don’t think that if Labour said to Murdoch, in the next election, we don’t want your support, I don’t think it would do them much damage.

    AMY GOODMAN: His sons now are taking more power.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: He is grooming them to take up the imperial mantle.

    AMY GOODMAN: Well, Alexander Cockburn, you have written a book or edited a book with Jeffrey St. Clair called The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Can you talk about the thesis of this edited volume?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: There are many theses in the book. It comes down to this: there are many powerful lobbies in the world, whether it’s the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies and so forth and one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States is the Israel lobby. And it is very hard, almost impossible, for a member of congress to say anything hostile to Israel, as regards its treatment of the Palestinians without suffering immediate sanctions.

    Look at Cynthia McKinney. Look at Hillyard in Alabama. Look at many other cases — Moran at the moment.

    Whereas in Israel, you can have four of the former chiefs of the security service stand up and say, Sharon is a menace to the security of Israel. He has compromised the security of Israel. And they headlined it in the Israeli press. In this country, no politician would dare to do that, for a second, like Gephardt in the debates.

    AMY GOODMAN: Right. Last night, the debate in Iowa of the democratic candidates, Tom Brokaw asked Gephardt would he call Sharon a man of peace and he said everything but respond to that.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Absolutely petrified — what a disgusting sight.

    And the other thing is, if you are critical of what successive Israeli governments have done to Palestinians, if you are critical of what Zionism in practice turns out to be, in this country you are accused of being anti-Semite. The equation of being critical of a policy of a government with anti-Semitism, which has a huge horrifying infamous history going back to the Middle Ages… I have been called an anti-Semite many times, most recently by a fellow because I was critical of Irving Howe, a left intellectual. It turns out that was meant to be somehow anti-Semitic.

    So a lot of the essays in the book by people like Robert Fisk of The Independent address this issue. Fisk, in his essay, just recounts some of the letters that he gets as soon as he does a piece that is a little critical of something that Israel has done. He gets incredible letters reviling him, saying that they hope he is going to be dead.

    This book addresses the issue of the lobby and addresses the issue of what is and what is not anti-Semitism. It addresses cases like The Liberty, the U.S. ship that was bombarded by Israeli planes in the Six-Day War and many U.S. servicemen were killed and hundreds were wounded, and there has been a complete block on any real investigation. There was a cover-up by the Johnson administration. In some ways, the cover-up still continues.

    There were essays by people like the late Edward Said. We have a meeting today at the Judson Church which will be part a memorial for Edward and part a discussion of the essays of the book.

    AMY GOODMAN: He was supposed to be at the Judson Church today?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: It was one of the last things he agreed to do before he died. We have got myself and Lisa Klein, who used to be in the IDF, the Israeli armed forces, and Lenny Brenner who has written extensively about the history of Zionism and it will be a… I hope that if people are interested, they should come to the Judson church at 7:00.

    AMY GOODMAN: Uri Avneri is one of the people that you have an essay from in your book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He’s an Israeli journalist. Could you talk about the Israeli press versus the U.S. press?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: On the discussion of Israel there’s no comparison.

    You can now read Herat in English, which is one of the Hebrew language papers. Years ago a lot of Herats used to be translated. I used to get these massive printouts.

    Now you can read it and anyone who is accustomed to the really appalling coverage of Israel in the mainstream press, anyone who has a glance at the English language press, not the Jewish Telegraph which is owned by Conrad Black, who is now in trouble with his stock stockholders. They charged him with using money for his own purposes which they should have had for their stock issues. But other papers discuss frankly what’s going on.

    They’re wonderful Israeli reporters like Gideon Levy, who describe what’s happening in the territories. You never see a word of this in the mainstream press in the Americas.

    AMY GOODMAN: And Amira Hass as well.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: We have two or three contributors from Israel who give good descriptions of what’s going on. We discuss the whole business of what is suppressed in the press.

    AMY GOODMAN: You also have a piece by Norman Finkelstein called “Counterfeit Courage: Reflections on Political Correctness in Germany.” Norman Finkelstein who wrote the Holocaust Industry and is the son of two holocaust survivors.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Yeah, Norman does a pretty funny piece actually. Norman went to Germany and he is talking about real political courage and fake political courage. He — Norman, as you said, is the child of holocaust survivors from the camps. He went there and he got dumped on by liberal Germans who accused him of being a self-hating Jew. Norman makes the point, that was posturing on their part. If they — if they — if they had real political courage, they would have raised their voices in Germany against the policies in Israel causing people to have their houses destroyed, their orchards ripped up, the terrible fence that’s stealing more and more Palestinian land and address the real issues of which there are hundreds. As is constantly said in Israel. Here you barely read a line about it and in Germany, too. That’s what Norman’s piece about.

    AMY GOODMAN: Kathy and Bill Christison talk about duel loyalties.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Now the Christisons are very high senior…particularly Bill, he is on our website a lot. By the way if they are interested in the book, they can go to and get it that way. They are not available in many bookstores. Many of them, but you can go straight to Counterpunch.

    The Christisons, who are senior CIA analysts, do address this issue that half the time when you are looking at congress, are you looking at someone who is voting at the behest of the Israel lobby or operating on behalf of a foreign power or what are they up to.

    And there’s an anonymous very polemical piece under the name of a guy called Sutherland, which talks about our Vichy congress which we had on our website and was a pretty striking piece about how petrified congress is, every single member of congress with a couple of exceptions, of doing anything that would offend the pro Israel lobby.

    AMY GOODMAN: Where do you think the Israel-Palestine conflict will go?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: I think there’s an interesting debate which is sort of happening about the two-state solution and the one-state or whether you can talk in any meaningful sense about a possible two states. What would the second state be for Palestinians. Is it really just a series of little Bantu stands surrounded by fences with no possibility of viable existence, or are we going back to talking about a one-state solution with democratic rights for all.

    I’m a little unclear in my mind. I have Avneri, who is passionately in favor of a two-state solution. The late Edward Said and others would say no, one state, that’s what we are talking about. That’s looking in the long term.

    Here you are looking at the overwhelming power of the lobby, but increasingly because of non-established media such as yours or Counterpunch or the net you can get more about the situation in Israel than you could ten years ago. There’s more open conversation. I began at The Village Voice in the 1970’s when Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, was widely and respectfully quoted saying there are no Palestinians. If you had a bleep about Palestinians’ rights you were called an anti-Semite right away.

    The situation hasn’t gotten better for Palestinians, I don’t believe, but I think the debate here has gotten better. I think that this book, I think, is an important book — I mean, without patting ourselves too much on the back, because it does raise these issues in a temperate, interesting and intelligent way. There are not very many books like this.

    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, going broad to the 2004 election, and president Bush. Where do you see things developing?

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Well, I think Bush is toast, probably. I mean, I —- I tend to think that -—

    AMY GOODMAN: He’s just started spending some of the massive amounts of money he has raised running ads in Iowa right now.

    ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Yeah, I know. I find it hard to imagine that Bush will win. I think someone like Dean will probably get it.

    I mean — I personally still believe there is a real role for a third party candidate, whether it be Nader or someone, because on so many of the issues, there’s unanimity, corporate America, on the drug industry or the media industry, Israel, you name it, there is an iron ceiling. Someone like Nader has to be there to challenge the outside.

    But, if you are going to say, who I do think will win? I think a Democrat will win. I don’t know what difference it will make. That’s a different question.

    AMY GOODMAN: Alexander Cockburn, I want to thank you for being with us. His latest book is The Politics of Anti-Semitism. It’s edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. Thank You.

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