As you may know Christopher Hitchens died. The media, particularly the liberal media, has gone into mourning. Slate, where Hitchens wrote a weekly column, has gone over-the-top with its approbation. I think there are over 20 memorials of some kind or another to Hitchens, all of which are glowing. Frankly, I am surprised Slate hasn’t changed its design to a black background. Slate is acting like a newly devastated widow.
Obituaries of the famous (excluding genocidal maniacs) are fawning by nature. When the media loses one of its own, that’s all it can talk about it. Remember how overboard the media went when Tim Russert died? This is even more embarrassing. The longer an obituary has to gestate, the more whitewashed it is. Hitchens announced a while ago that he had terminal cancer, so the obituary writers had plenty of time to plan their purple prose. (Do you think I am kidding? Bob Hope’s obituary in the New York Times was written by a man who died before Hope.)
The whitewashing of Hitchens is particularly aggravating because in the rush to lionize him, his (many, many) sins have been overlooked. No one wants to speak ill of the dead, but Hitchens committed some major sins, and they need to be brought up. Obviously there is his unwavering support for the Iraq War and his dishonest attempts to justify it again and again whenever his previous attempts were proved illusory. There is also his atheism, which ironically (perhaps too ironic for Hitchens to recognize) he pushed with the exact same kind of militancy and zeal as the evangelicals he criticized.
Hitchens was a pompous snob. Despite his occasional Trotskyite leanings, he was very much a believer in a caste system and felt that he himself belonged in the upper caste (he very much ingratiated himself among the Washington elite.) He spouted casual misogyny and homophobia whether or not he actually believed what he said. His hatred of the Clintons was baffling and as fanatical as the Republicans who tried to bring down the Clinton Presidency. And despite his loathing of the terrorism of Islamic fundamentalist groups, he often supported terrorism so long as they terrorized for causes he believed in. A leftist terrorist for example could earn his sympathy and even his friendship.
Alex Pareene at Salon is the only person I have seen thus far who has dared to take on Hitchens from the left. It’s hard to take anything in Salon seriously, but the truth is that Hitchens was no hero. He does not deserve to be canonized just because people liked him personally and thought he was erudite. Perhaps an astute observer might say Hitchens would agree with me. Frankly, I don’t care.
[Update: There have been some criticisms of Hitchens even if they are few and far between. Not on Slate of course (the Slate style of publishing contrary articles solely for the purpose of being contrary clearly does not apply to one of their own, no matter how controversial he was), but on Gawker and on Salon. These articles focus primarily on Hitchens’s misguided views of the Iraq War, and only rarely mention other sins. (This post is better.) Probably the longest criticism of Hitchens comes from that wet blanket of a human being Glenn Greenwald at Salon. A lot of the points that Greenwald brought up were issues I mentioned in passing in this post. Frankly it scares me that I agree with him, but since even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Greenwald too can made a valid now and then. My consolation is my post was written and published before his so I cannot be accused of plagiarism. Also, while post is relatively brief, one must slog through Greenwald’s novella/screed. Given how second-rate a writer, thinker, and polemicist he is, that is no easy task.]