(Regretfully) Hitchens Is Right, Cole Is Wrong

I love Professor Juan Cole’s site. He’s been a leading voice against the Iraq war, he knows what he’s talking about and he writes with sympathy for the Arab world from the standpoint of an international American who cherishes America’s best interests. I trust his judgment.

But Cole is doing himself a disservice by getting so worked up about Christopher Hitchens’s quotation of his statements about Iran on a listserv, a statement Cole thought to be private. Lately Cole has published his petulant emails to Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate (who brushed him off coolly and correctly). One claim Cole makes is that he was going to publish the statement himself, and Hitchens scooped him, and illegally and unethically deprived him of the value of his work. Yes, Hitchens scooped him, but I don’t buy all the violations. I give Cole great credit for the lines that Hitchens printed (and attacked). I will look forward to what Cole has to say at greater length on the question. I think a lot more people will now be tuned to Cole, a good thing indeed. And how much money was he really going to make off these ideas? He says the listserv was a “small” group. How small? And what has Cole done about the real violation, the colleague who emailed his stuff to Hitchens. Give us some facts.

I generally can’t stand Hitchens. I think he masks weak and sometimes vicious arguments on the war and related issues with tangential bloviations, self-satisfied turns of phrase and a grandiosity that yes, does seem vinous. On this matter, though, he’s right. Someone leaked this stuff to him, he found it interesting and important. Go with it. And no, he doesn’t have to call Cole for comment, as Cole demands.

If an idea is so important to you, any journalist will tell you—keep it close to the vest. That’s the bottom line here: Cole has a lot to learn more about journalism.

P.S. And another lesson, Cole sent one angry email to Weisberg at 12:31 a.m., per the date stamp. Always a bad idea.