Prominent journalist and political writer Alexander Cockburn died in Germany on Saturday, according to his friend Jeffery St. Clair. Cockburn, 71, had been battling cancer for a couple of years.
Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret, St. Clair wrote in an obituary for CounterPunch, which they co-edited. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn't want the disease to define him. He didn't want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn't want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done. Alex wanted to keep living his life right to the end. He wanted to live on his terms. And he wanted to continue writing through it all.
Cockburn was born in Scotland to two writers, communist journalist Claud Cockburn and autobiographer Patricia Byron. After spending his early years in Ireland, Cockburn began his career in journalism working as a reporter in England. In the early 1970s, he moved to the U.S. and began working as a contributor for several publications, including Esquire and Harper's.
In 1973, Cockburn began a column for the Village Voice in New York. His Press Clips column was known for its strong, opinionated coverage of ongoing political events. Cockburn stayed with the Voice until 1983.
In 1994, Cockburn and St. Clair began editing the fledgling CounterPunch, a newsletter centered on strong political opinion. The self-described radical paper routinely featured commentary by Cockburn and St. Clair on divisive issues such as American foreign policy and the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Palestinian-Israeli relations were a major concern for Cockburn, who dedicated many of his writings to criticism of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. Cockburn's criticisms sometimes earned him allegations of anti-Semitism, a topic that Cockburn covered in his book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Cockburn alleged that many accusations of anti-Semitism are made in large part to deflect criticism of the Israeli government.
Cockburn was also known as a major critic of the American political system, often placing members of both sides of the political spectrum in his crosshairs. While Cockburn considered himself a strong leftist, he squarely criticized both parties.