When it was announced on Saturday that Alexander Cockburn had died of cancer at the age of 71, our friend Dan Kennedy reminded us that it had been an article by Alan Lupo, writing in the Phoenix in 1984, that had led to Cockburn being fired from his gig writing about politics and media at the Village Voice. (The New York Times also notes the fact in an obit published in this morning's paper.) Thanks to Dan's digging, we were able to re-publish the piece in question this morning. In it, Lupo broke the story that Cockburn had received a $10,000 fellowship from a Massachusetts-based non-profit that supported Arab causes. That may not seem grounds for dismissal, but Cockburn had also failed to report the money to his editor, and had taken the money while writing a series of broadsides against Israel. There was no question of illegality -- merely impropriety, and since Cockburn had written a column of media criticism in which he had previously ransacked many of his colleagues for similar (or lesser) conflicts of interest, Lupo was able to hoist Cockburn on his own petard.
The story produced reams of angry letters, and at least two rebuttals from Cockburn, none of which was able to dispute the facts of the Phoenix's reporting.
Two weeks later, Cockburn's editor at the Voice, David Schneiderman, suspended him indefinitely without pay. "What Alexander Cockburn did was wrong," Schneiderman wrote in the Village Voice of January 24, 1984. "It was inappropriate for him to receive money from a group with a special political interest and not to disclose it." Schneiderman wrote at the time that he looked forward to Cockburn's eventual return, but it was the end of Cockburn at the Voice.
Cockburn, of course, landed on his feet -- he later went the The Nation and founded the liberal newsletter CounterPunch, and was alternately revered and reviled as a take-no-prisoners voice of dissent from the left. His death has produced salutations from James Walcott, his Counterpunch co-editor Jeffrey St. Clair, and the Nation's John Nichols -- all deserved. Lupo's piece will serve as a tribute both to the enmity Cockburn engendered by sparing no fools -- and as a testament to how not even Cockburn was always himself able to live up to his lofty ideals.
READ: A Question of Propriety: Alexander Cockburn's $10,000 Arab Connection [Boston Phoenix]