Juan Cole – Christopher Hitchens Blog War
On Tuesday, Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece for Slate arguing the University of Michigan historian/Middle East Studies prof/blogger Juan Cole is “a minor nuisance on the fringes of the academic Muslim apologist community.” He stakes his case partly on comments Cole made as part of a “Gulf 2000” e-mail listserv.
Cole responded yesterday expressing his outrage that Hitchens published these comments, apparently forwarded to him by a listserv member, because “It has a strict rule that messages appearing there will not be forwarded off the list.” He then asserts,
Well, I don’t think it is any secret that Hitchens has for some time had a very serious and debilitating drinking problem. He once showed up drunk to a talk I gave and heckled me. I can only imagine that he was deep in his cups when he wrote, or had some far Rightwing think tank write, his current piece of yellow journalism. I am sorry to witness the ruin of a once-fine journalistic mind.
Later in the day, Hugh Hewitt had Hitchens on his radio program to respond to the response. He begins by calling Cole “10th rate, and he’s a sordid apologist for Islamist terrorism, and for Islamist terrorist regimes.” He later observes, “His English is, by the way, very poor. I can’t believe his Persian is excellent, because his English is lousy.”
Hewitt then pointed out the above quote from Cole and notes that Andrew Sullivan witnessed him quite sober at the event. Hitchens demurs on the sobriety front:
I’m sure with Andrew, I must have had a drink to celebrate the piece. So he may be exaggerating that. And I can take a drink if I have to, but for some reason, my opponents think it’s incredibly important to represent me as a falling down alcoholic. And I mean, look, I don’t have to reply to a slander like that. They can ask themselves how it is that I manage to turn in copy that everyone wants to print, on demand, regularly, every week and every month. And I show up regularly to give lectures and television appearances also. And it would, I think, show if I was a hopeless case.
A reasonable response, methinks. Indeed, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if Hitchens is able to produce the volume and quality of work his does under the influence, I’d like to have some of his stash.
Well, I’ve always thought that attacks of that kind, wherever they come from, were invariably a sign of weakness. I mean, if Juan Cole wrote a piece attacking me, and all I could think of in reply was to say well, he seems like a dope fiend, or a closet case, or a pederast, I would feel that I wasn’t really meeting his argument, I mean, that I hadn’t replied to the points he’d made against me. The ad hominem is widely and rightly denounced, because it shows a collapse on the part of the person who uses it. They won’t reply to your point, they won’t reply to your case. And Cole, who is the embodiment of the mediocre, this would not surprise me in the least. I mean, he writes as if he’s drunk, because you have to, the sentences are made up of syntactical train wrecks. But I don’t think it’s alcohol in his case. I think it’s illiteracy, simply.
An attack against ad hominem attacks using ad hominem attacks is rather amusing.
This morning, Cole points a post by Helena Cobban wherein she opines “anyone who’s known Chris for even one-fourth as long as I have would have to admit the guy has long had a very serious drinking problem” and that “If Chris Hitchens is not in an AA program, I am sure he needs to get into one. In the meantime, the rest of us should hold him quite accountable for his sleazy actions. Being an alcoholic does not give you a ‘carte blanche’, or indeed any other kind of an excuse, to disregard the rules of human society and decent behavior.” The violation, remember, being the publication of comments Cole actually wrote but presumed were private on a list to which Hitchens was not a member and had not agreed to provide confidentiality.
The ad hominem attacks back and forth between such demonstrably intelligent folks as these are rather juvenile and counterproductive to advancing their respective arguments. As to the merits of Cole’s charges, I would assert that Hitchens’ sobriety is irrelevant, the publication of the email well within the bounds of journalistic ethics, and Hitchens’ failure to contact Cole for his response as part of the fact gathering process rather shoddy for a professional journalist, let alone one of Hitchens’ stature.
Update: Megan McArdle expands greatly on the journalistic ethics angle.