The girl who cries “racist”

norton1
Ben Norton

In recent weeks we’ve been discussing a couple of ambitious lads who, despite their very tender ages, have already made a big name for themselves by parroting – in print, online, and on TV – the familiar grab-bag of far-left talking points about America, Israel, “neoliberalism,” Kirchnerism, chavismo, Islam, Islamophobia, and so on.

One of these kids is Ben Norton, an American writer who contributes regularly to Salon and pops up frequently at Mondoweiss, AlterNet, and the Electronic Intifada. The other is Owen Jones, a British Guardian columnist who also turns up occasionally in The Independent, The Mirror, and New Statesman.

owenjones
Owen Jones

Both of these boys are as callow as they are predictable, but that hasn’t hindered them – on the contrary, it’s almost certainly helped them – on their very fast climb up the ladder of the transatlantic commentariat.

It’s only fair to give the other sex equal time, so this week we’re going to meet a young woman who’s every bit as spectacularly successful a far-left ideologue as Ben and Owen. Her name is Laurie Penny.

penny3
Laurie Penny

Just short of thirty years old, she comes from a very privileged background. The daughter of two successful lawyers, she went to a “posh” (her word) public school – which, of course, is what the British call their fancy private schools – and studied English at Wadham College, Oxford. Like Owen, she’s been a columnist at both The Independent and New Statesman, and currently writes for the latter. She’s also published several books: Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (2011), Penny Red: Notes from a New Age of Dissent (2011), Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens (2012), Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (2013), and Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (2014). Yet another book, Everything Belongs to the Future, is forthcoming in October.

starkey1
David Starkey

We’ll get around to some of her writings shortly; first, though, by way of introduction, let’s take a look at an excerpt from a June 2012 panel about English identity on which Penny, then age 25, appeared with Professor David Starkey, C.B.E., F.S.A., R.Hist.S., who at the time was 67. A couple of words about Starkey, which (for reasons that will become obvious) are relevant here: the son of a factory foreman and cotton weaver, he suffered as a child with club feet and polio, had a nervous breakdown at age 13, and attended Cambridge on a scholarship before going on to create a splendid and substantial career for himself as a serious historian of England and a presenter of well-received television documentaries about English history. He is also openly gay, and was an outspoken champion of gay rights at a time when that was a brave and dangerous path to take.

On, then, to the June 2012 panel. As can be observed in a video (see below), Penny stood at the lectern and accused Starkey, who is not a bigot of any kind, of “xenophobia and racial prejudice” and asked him where he was “domiciled for tax purposes.” Starkey stood up and took her place at the lectern. “As you have chosen to be personal and invidious,” he said, “let me tell you a little story.” He told the audience that he and Penny had recently been invited by an underfunded institution to debate the topic of republic vs. monarchy. (Starkey is a monarchist.)

“I was prepared to do it for free,” Starkey recalled, but Penny “insisted on trying to charge such large fee that the event had to be cancelled.” Calling her action “mean and grasping,” Starkey said, “I will not be lectured to by a jumped-up public-school girl like you. I came up from the bottom and I will not have it!” (“Jumped-up,” by the way, is perfect here: it means someone who considers herself more important than she really is, or who has “suddenly and undeservedly risen in status.”)

penny4
When she’s not fighting for the oppressed, Penny is a world-class clotheshorse

He would not have it – and she could not take it. The rest of the video is almost painful to watch. Penny, obviously unsettled, says at first that she wants to reply to Starkey’s charge. She then bumbles through an incoherent explanation of her fee demands, citing her financial needs and plane schedules and problems involving other invited speakers. She then says she’s changed her mind – she doesn’t want to reply to Starkey. She then changes her mind again, and says that her request for a high fee for the republic vs. monarchy debate wasn’t really about money at all but about her fear that she would be personally attacked on that panel in the way, she says, that Starkey has attacked her just now. “There’s a violence inherent in this discussion,” she maintains, and again accuses Starkey of going personal and failing to maintain civility.

“You started it!” an audience member shouts. “You called him a racist!” Penny looks out at the crowd, uncomprehending. “He is a racist,” she says.

But of course this brief glimpse of Laurie isn’t enough to get the full picture. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll look at a longer, more revealing video of her in action.

Second-generation Stalinist

Yesterday we met the late Claud Cockburn, a propaganda tool of Stalin’s who passed himself off as a legitimate journalist.

cockb
Alexander Cockburn

Cockburn had three sons, all of whom became journalists of varying degrees of legitimacy. The oldest, Alexander – born in 1941 and educated, like his father, at Keble College, Oxford – was, more than his brothers, the keeper of their father’s flame and the follower in his footsteps. Which is to say that he routinely wrote columns celebrating his father’s legacy, shamelessly repeated his father’s flagrant lies, and himself made a career of defending Stalin, the Soviet Union, and, later, post-Soviet Russia.

Presumably because he was the son of such an illustrious, well-connected hack, Alex Cockburn made his name quickly, going straight from Oxford to the Times Literary Supplement and New Statesman and then – after relocating, in familiar British-journalist fashion, to the U.S. – to the Village Voice, then The Nation. In the 1990s he co-founded the loony-left rag CounterPunch, of which he served as co-editor until his death in 2012. When he died, Cockburn, like many another Communist, was given a thorough whitewash in the New York Times and other mainstream media, which memorialized him as a brilliantly crusading journalist and honorable liberal truth-teller.

04-09 Brief_v5.indd
Irving Howe

In fact there was nothing liberal about him. As Harold Meyerson wrote after Cockburn’s death, a “contempt for liberals and social democrats was a hallmark” of his work; he “took particular pleasure in calumniating” anti-Communist socialists such as George Orwell and Irving Howe, because their “democratic scruples” threatened Cockburn’s own “claim to radical rectitude (not to mention communism’s claim to socialist legitimacy).” In short, he was the very tintype of his dad.

As with his father, Alex’s politics were always of a piece: ardently pro-Soviet, anti-American, anti-Israeli, and – not to mince words about it – unapologetically anti-Semitic. One of the things that made CounterPunch distinctive, as it happens, was that he actually allowed into its pages – which were mostly populated by far-left nuts – the occasional piece by a far-right nut who shared his own virulent Jew-hatred.

Exactly how anti-Semitic was he? This anti-Semitic: in 2009 he ran an article by Alison Weir accusing Israel of kidnapping Palestinians in order to harvest their organs for transplant.

stalin1
Josef Stalin

As for his devotion to Stalin, we’ll quote Meyerson again: “Alex never ceased casting Stalin in the best light possible, consistently downplaying the number of Russians (including virtually all the original Bolsheviks) who died by his hand.” He defended Stalin’s signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He blamed postwar totalitarianism in Eastern Europe on the Cold War – in other words, on the West, rather than on Stalin, who’d actually imposed the totalitarianism. Though firmly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he defended the USSR’s earlier incursion into that country. He also applauded the fact that the USSR had stolen America’s nuclear secrets, “thus ending the US monopoly on Armageddon, and in my view making the world a safer place.” In fact, the U.S. monopoly had lasted four years, long enough for the U.S. to have exploited that monopoly in the same way Hitler or Stalin would have done in a heartbeat – namely, by using it to subdue the entire planet.