There was a small crowd at the weekly peace vigil in front of the Federal Building on Thursday. I asked where the big, blue "Quakers for Peace" banner was this week and was told it was with the Quakers who hadn't shown up, which gave everyone the giggles.
During the 1980s, my two favorite journalists were a couple of young writers in the weekly "New York Village Voice" named Alexander Cockburn and James Wolcott. Cockburn wrote a number of Washington, DC muckraking pieces with another writer named James Ridgeway and also did a weekly "Press Clips" column, which was an early examination of the mendacity of the mainstream press. He also was one of the first writers to suggest that Israel wasn't treating their neighbors the Palestinians very well, which was rank heresy at the time. The only other famous person of those years to suggest such a thing was Vanessa Redgrave, who was treated as a rank lunatic. Cockburn was eventually fired because he was paid to address an Arab-American group, or some such nonsense, and then was offered his job back when it turned out there was nothing unethical about his behavior, but he told the "Village Voice" to eff off and has made his way as a freelancer ever since, moving at some point to the country in Northern California.
James Wolcott wrote the "Television" column and used it as an excuse to pontificate on just about everything cultural. What he and Cockburn shared were extraordinarily elegant, funny and cutting prose styles that made the two of them stick out like sore thumbs, even among a number of other quite brilliant writers at the "Voice" of the time.
Wolcott moved on to "The New Yorker" briefly and finally settled in at "Vanity Fair" where he's written a monthly column for ages. Cockburn became a columnist for "The Nation" for which he has written even longer. Since I don't read either magazine (the former is too glossy and perfumed for my tastes, and the latter isn't glossy and perfumed enough), I basically lost out on two of my favorite writers for years.
However, they have both started blogs and it feels like having two old friends reappear out of nowhere.
Cockburn's site is a magazine style affair called Counterpunch, which has a lot of boring, predictable writers, but there are some major exceptions, especially Alexander Cockburn himself. The site has been down today, but it should be back up soon, so click here for a link.
Wolcott's blog is sponsored by "Vanity Fair" and you can tell it's revived him as a writer/commentator. It's quite amazing how much he can write, so well. To get to the link, click here.
He has also provided a link to his latest column in "Vanity Fair" about the media and Iraq which is quite brilliant and telling. Here's an excerpt:
The truth is, Americans have been exposed to a diminishing picture of the human destruction in Iraq. As Sydney Schanberg wrote in The Village Voice, "Yes, some photos of such bloodshed have been published at times over the span of this war. But they have become sparser and sparser, while the casualty rate has stayed the same or, frequently, shot higher." This reticence reeks of bad faith. "If we believe that the present war in Iraq is just and necessary, why do we shrink from looking at the damage it wreaks? … And why, in response, have newspapers gone along with Washington and grown timid about showing photos of the killing and maiming?" Because, post-9/11, news editors and producers have been tiptoeing like ballerinas to avoid offending the Pentagon and the Oval Office, afraid of making a dreadful faux pas. While it's awfully decent of [NY Times columnist] Tierney not to advocate official censorship (which would be like a watchdog requesting a muzzle), journalistic self-censorship may be more pernicious than government censorship. At least the latter is honestly motivated by the dishonest self-interest of our elected chiselers to deceive the citizenry and get away with grand larceny. But the pale, apprehensive, hand-wringing, soul-searching self-censorship of editors and publishers trying to measure just how much unpalatable truth can be doled out to the public without upsetting their delicate digestive system serves no one's interest, not even their own. You might as well put Charlie Brown in charge.
For the full article, click here.