R.I.P. Alexander Cockburn, 1941-2012

AlexCockburnCorey Robin over at his blog:

Alexander Cockburn, one of the finest radical journalists—no, journalists—of his generation, has died. Because of the similarities between him and Christopher Hitchens—both Anglos (he of Ireland, Hitchens of England) in America; both friends, for a time; both left (though, in Hitchens’s case, for a time); and both dying relatively young from cancer—people, inevitably, will want to make comparisons. Here, very quickly, are three (and why I think Cockburn was ultimately the superior writer).

First, Cockburn was a much better observer of people and of politics: in part because he didn’t impose himself on the page the way Hitchens did, he could see particular details (especially of class and of place) that eluded Hitchens. At his best, he got out of the way of his own story and allowed his readers to see things they never would have seen without him.

Second, he was extraordinarily well read, but he didn’t make a parade of his learning. One sly quote from Gibbons or Tacitus was enough. He understood, unlike Hitchens, that less is more, and that helped him—to an extraordinary degree—on the page. Ever the over-achieving schoolboy, Hitchens simply drew too much attention to himself, and even his finest sentences (which were quite fine) had a way of distracting from the matter at hand.