Alexander Cockburn, a prominent radical columnist and journalist, has died at 71 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Cockburn's death was announced by his friend and journalism partner Jeffrey St. Clair on Counterpunch, the website they ran together.
Cockburn was born in Ireland, the son of novelist and journalist Claud Cockburn and the brother of Andrew and Patrick Cockburn, both of whom also became journalists. (He was also uncle to actress Olivia Wilde.) He moved to the United States in the 1970s and remained there for the rest of his life.
Cockburn was a well-known writer for decades. He first became famous as a pioneering media critic, writing a column on the press for the Village Voice for ten years. (Media writer Jack Shafer long cited him as an inspiration.)
He founded Counterpunch, which became a clearinghouse for his writing and for other leftist journalism, in 1996.
Cockburn became well known, and controversial, for his strong criticisms of American foreign and domestic policy; his skepticism about global warming; his opposition to the policies of Israel; and for his bitter falling out with his former friend, the late Christopher Hitchens. But he ranged widely, pointing his pen at everything from the regulation of marijuana to the founder of the Boy Scout movement, Robert-Baden Powell.
Cockburn's searing wit was a frequent staple of his columns.
In one piece on foreign correspondents, for instance, he wrote that "CL [Sulzberger] is the summation, the platonic ideal of what foreign reporting is all about, which is to fire volley after volley of cliché into the densely packed prejudices of his readers."
Another famous column roasted the PBS stalwarts Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, calling them "the tedium twins."
"Admirers of the 'MacNeil/Lehrer Report' — and there are many of them — often talk about it in terms normally reserved for unpalatable but nutritious breakfast foods," he wrote. He came up with the concept of false balance long before it was a staple of media criticism, mocking the tendency in the PBS show by inventing a conversation about the morality of slavery. (The liberal called for better regulation, the businessman said regulation will harm the industry, and the abolitionist was cut off.)
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, tweeted about his death on Saturday morning:
Jack Shafer also put together a compilation of some of his greatest hits.