Alexander Cockburn and the Radical Power of the Word

Cockburn_imgJohn Nichols in The Nation:

Alex, who has died too young at age 71 in Bad Salzhausen, Germany, loved writing. He loved it so much that he met his deadlines even as a two-year battle with cancer progressed toward its final stages. Alex's commitment to the craft—to the radical power of the word—extended far beyond his own contribution. He poked, prodded and inspired the rest of us. When I was working on an article at my home computer, he would lean over me and make suggestions. Invariably, Alex wanted to see a paragraph added on some new evil done by a corporation, some third-party candidate who had not gotten enough attention or some third-world cause that had gotten even less attention. Alex’s suggestions did not always fit where he proposed that I add them, and I asked them about this once.

“Sometimes you just have to get the story out,” he said, “anywhere you can.”

But, of course, Alex never just got the story out. His prose, honed during an Anglo-Irish childhood when he learned at the side of the master—his father Claud, the great radical British journalist of mid-century who lent him the title of his column, “Beat the Devil”—never failed. Alex knew how good he was. He knew that he could take readers where other writers could not, to the fields of India where Coca-Cola was stealing water from peasants, to the barricades of neglected labor battles in Austin, Minnesota, and Toledo, Ohio; to “The City” of London where the Libor scandal now unfolds. There were times when the going got rough; Alex's radicalism was genuine, and he could offend not just foes on the right but friends on the left. He parted company with mainstream liberals on issues ranging from gun control to global warming.

But no one could skewer the banksters, the robber barons and the crony capitalists of this broken era quite so ably as Alex.