Doug Henwood-Alexander Cockburn exchange

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Nov 10 18:40:15 MST 1999

(Doug's letter appears in the latest issue of NY Press, an "alternative"
weekly run by a libertarian. Cockburn has a regular column, which attacked
Kathe Pollit last week for not having spoken out about "ritual abuse"
hysteria in the Nation. Cockburn's reply to Doug follows.)

In the course of an e-mail exchange with Andrey Slivka on 10/26--ages ago
in tabloid time, I know—I mentioned that I thought you guys should ease up
on Katha Pollitt. Imagine my surprise to see in the paper that hit the
streets that afternoon that Alexander Cockburn had devoted his entire
column to an indictment of Pollitt ("Wild Justice," 10/27). Her crime?
Writing a condemnation of the Satanic ritual abuse madness 10 years too
late by Cockburn’s calendar.

I thought Cockburn wrote great stuff on that witch hunt, as did Debbie
Nathan and Dorothy Rabinowitz. Too bad there were so few others on their
side. If he thought it was so important that Pollitt weigh in, did he ask
her to write something? Did he suggest to the editor they share at The
Nation that it might be a good topic for one of her columns? My preliminary
research says he didn’t.

If Pollitt's silence was a crime—or a mistake, or an oversight or whatever
you want to call it—then certainly she wasn’t the only guilty party. It
might have been interesting to analyze why some American feminists made an
alliance with censors and witch-hunters In the 80s— though Pollitt wasn’t a
member of that school, and their numbers have dwindled severely in the 90s.
But that would have been a different piece from the kinds of ad hominem
flames that Cockburn seems to specialize in these days. What was the point
in devoting thousands of words to her and no one else? Does he really think
her influence is that awesome? If he thought so, then his 10-year failure
to urge her to write on the topic is a pretty serious lapse. Why does
Cockburn find it so easy to say kind things about right-wing lunatics like
his new friend Larry Pratt—the fundamentalist gun nut who thinks Charlton
Heston is a chardonnay-swilling sellout, who thinks that arming teachers is
a nifty solution to school violence and who was fired by the Buchanan
campaign In ‘96 for having ties with white supremacist groups—while
reserving all his acid for people on the left? What’s next, a column on how
the Klan is really just an affinity group for misunderstood working-class
tax rebels?

Left Business Observer, Manhattan

Doug Henwood what’s this nonsense about "preliminary research." What you
actually mean is that after my column your friend Katha called up and
whined on the phone and you pledged to rally to her side and now here you
are, puffing—a little late—onto the battlefield. Actually, back in 1993
when I was writing about Janet Reno's satanic abuse prosecutions in Dade
County, I think I did lament to at least one Nation editor that it would be
useful if Pollitt piped up and I'm not at all sure that her initial cavils
at what I was writing on the subject weren’t prompted by my suggestion to
her that she take a decent position on the issue. That’s my preliminary
memory anyway.

And Doug, what’s all this nonsense about "ad hominem" flames? I directed a
serious piece of criticism at Pollitt dwelling solely on the substantive
issue at hand. An "ad hominem" onslaught would have involved unflattering
or spiteful personal slurs, of the sort you yourself indulge in from time
to time, as when you once referred to Alan Greenspan as the "foul-breathed"
chairman of the Fed. That’s ad hominem, Doug. Denunciation of Greenspan’s
documented policies is not. As for my alleged tendency to praise right-
wingers but not lefties, I've said kind things about right-wingers and also
pwoggies marginally to the left of the mainstream like yourself. After all,
for years you’ve been featuring my endorsement of your all too intermittent
publication, Left Business Observer.

Apropos my supposed enthusiasm for the right, I think, Doug, your problem
is that you rarely advance into the American hinterland west of the Hudson,
and regard it as a place of terror infested with fundamentalists, militia
men and other demons of the polite liberal metropolitan imagination
inflamed by hysterical fundraising letters from Morris Dees. Last time you
came to the Northwest preliminary research suggests to me you were almost
too frightened to get out of the car. But you know my views. Recently you
were quavering to me nervously about my hopes of a populist coalition of
left and right on basic issues of liberty. I berated you for timidity and
said you’d jump at your own shadow. As it is, you sit in New York peering
at your computer screen and talking pretty much exclusively to people of
the same class and intellectual disposition. This leads to very
conventional thought plus frantic squeals of alarm to your gossip buddies
whenever your stringent norms of political correctness are transgressed.
Larry Pratt never said that Heston was a chardonnay swilling liberal
sellout. I once wrote that what I liked about Pratt as head of Gunowners of
America was that he regarded Heston as a chardonnay-swilling etc. etc. This
prompted another round of squeals from you, plus a flurry of e-mails about
the vileness of Pratt not —I think—based on any research by your good self,
or any effort to talk to the beast Pratt but on some newspaper clips. As
for your crack about the Klan, I suspect that's what you basically think
working-class rebels are, outside a few union organizers known by you on
personal basis. Doug, spend less time on your List and more getting out and

Louis Proyect
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