“When I began work on this biography, I intended it to be a very favourable portrait,” began a book on Graham Greene, published amid great controversy some 20 years ago. Alexander Cockburn quotes this phrase to expose Michael Shelden’s duplicity, suggesting it had all along been Shelden’s intention to do a hatchet job on Greene, an Oxford friend of his father’s.
Truth to tell, I find myself in a similar predicament vis-à-vis Cockburn. When I began work on this review, I want to aver, I intended it to be a very favorable portrait.
To avoid charges that, instead, I had been contemplating a debunking from the moment my review copy of this book was on the doormat, I ask the reader to put himself in my slippers. What possible advantage can I, by all accounts a viciously paleoconservative malcontent, garner by trashing a famous leftie like the dear departed Alexander Cockburn? What kind of article would that make? Would it gratify the reader to learn that in his lifetime Cockburn was an apologist for every scumbag west of Stalin and north of Che Guevara, while I, every inch the upstanding citizen, am bad-mouthing his book because I take exception to scumbags?
No, this would never do. It would make me sound like a smug, didactic, hypocritical prig, a personage out of Molière or, to draw the point...