Maybe you haven’t followed the on-line feud over whether rightwing columnist Christopher Hitchens’s alleged alcoholism led him to publish on Slate a statement by the influential scholar Juan Cole that Cole believed to be confidential. Cole had made the statement on a confidential listserv called “Gulf 2000.” He felt violated when Hitchens quoted from it, and mused that Hitchens may have done so because he’s an alcoholic.
Whether or not you think Hitchens is an alcoholic (and what I saw of him years ago would support that belief then), it’s great the conversation is happening. It’s probably relevant, to begin with. And it’s Cole’s honest opinion. And it would never appear in the mainstream press. That’s because the print press is so monetized. You get paid so much for issuing opinions in the mainstream press, and they make so much off those opinions, that libel concerns encircle every loaded statement. (Let alone the usual social groupthink questions: Unh, can we really say this??) In the blogosphere it’s about information and true opinion. Hitchens’s friends get to counter the claim or ignore it. There’s a free discussion, closer to what intellectuals are saying to one another on telephones and in bars (sorry!), not a stilted and false one.
Though Andrew Sullivan’s claim that his countryman was sober at the time
doesn’t seem entirely relevant. As Dan Swanson points out to me, the nastiness and self-centeredness of alcoholic behavior doesn’t require having had a drink..
Not that I would come down on Cole’s side here (as I do on his views of the Middle East). Cole is a very important thinker, for good reason; he has great judgment and knowledge. I gather that Hitchens is not in the listserv. If someone in the listserv passed on Cole’s confidential statement to Hitchens, and Hitchens chose to publish it, how different is that, in form, from what the New York Times so nobly did in breaking the story about Bush’s illegal wiretaps? Yes, the leaker violated an oath in giving the journalist info; the journalist shared the leaker’s view that the info was important, and passed it on to his readers.