Put on Trial Before an Angry
by Carl Swanson
CHRISTOPHER Hitchens is
mad again. This time he's chosen another
old friend to pick on: The Nation, the
left-wing magazine of opinion and
commentary for which he has penned the
biweekly Minority Report column since
Mr. Hitchens' beef is that his feelings
were hurt by the magazine's distinct and
derisive nonsupport of his
battle-of-the-affidavits with Clinton
White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal. Not
being one to sit and stew, Mr. Hitchens is
going to air his grievances on March 4 to
the whole staff in the magazine's
conference room at 33 Irving Place, at
10:30 A.M. sharp.
"I'm going to draw attention to a
couple of things they may have missed,"
promised Mr. Hitchens. "More than a couple
of things." This is probably not what
Nation publisher Victor Navasky and editor
Katrina vanden Heuvel had in mind when
they invited Mr. Hitchens to explain
himself after the story broke. Ms. vanden
Heuvel termed it "a staff conversation
a chance to just
have a frank and constructive exchange of
ideas." When asked if it was a show trial,
Mr. Navasky said, "Oh, no."
Still, Mr. Hitchens feels he's entering
enemy territory. Perhaps for good reason.
The March 1 issue of The Nation featured
an unsigned editorial stating that Mr.
Hitchens "inexplicably" filed the
affidavit contradicting Mr. Blumenthal's
testimony to Kenneth Starr's investigation
of the President. It went on: "The moral
issues involved in Hitchens' actions are
clear: We believe there is a journalistic
(and ethical) presumption against using
private conversations with friends for a
public purpose without first obtaining
permission; and against a reporter
cooperating with, and thus helping
legitimize, a reckless Congressional
was allowed to defend himself in his
usual column space, in a piece titled
"What Really Happened," which said The
Nation had been "suckered" by the
Clintons and expressed sympathy for
Monica Lewinsky. That was followed by a
sarcastic rejoinder by associate editor
Katha Pollitt in her Subject to Debate
column. Ms. Pollitt, who was allowed to
read his column before writing hers,
compared him to a McCarthyite and
accused him of being a borderline
She said he called women "douchebags"
-- an accusation she then took back in the
March 15 issue, saying, "His longtime
editor must have disremembered." Ms.
Pollitt planned to attend the March 4
meeting. "I'd be very interested
[in] what he has to say," she
said. To get all his perceived enemies
under one roof, Mr. Hitchens said that
he'd "made it a condition" of his meeting
"that Edward Jay Epstein be invited to
After the Blumenthal affidavit brouhaha
broke out, Mr. Epstein accused Mr.
Hitchens of denying the Holocaust to him
in a private conversation years before.
"He's a personal friend of the editor's,"
Mr. Hitchens said. Mr. Epstein isn't going
to be there, though. "He's going to be in
California," explained Mr. Navasky. Mr.
Hitchens said he offered to reschedule for
a better date, but that Mr. Epstein said
"no date" was good for him. Pity. He'll
miss out on all that wonderful left-wing
wailing and gnashing. Mr. Hitchens is
looking forward to the confab, of
"All the questions that they have may
now, for what it's worth, be answered. And
then I have to decide if I want to
continue" to write for them, he said.
"Which I don't really want to do." Mr.
Navasky said their disagreement was
political, and that the editorial, which
came out before the impeachment trial was
over, expressed their view fully. He
expressed "personal fondness" for Mr.
Hitchens and is fully prepared, now that
the ugly times are over, to end the ugly
tactics, too. But that doesn't make Mr.
"They crossed the line of decency or
fairness for the most cowardly reasons,"
he said, contrasting their actions to
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's, who
had dinner with him at Elaine's ("a public
place," he said) after the news broke. As
for The Nation, "There's no pride in being
associated with them anymore," he said.
Ms. vanden Heuvel said that the editors
had considered staging a more open forum,
outside the magazine, where Mr. Hitchens
could talk, but that that hadn't been
scheduled yet. "There's never been a
question" of his leaving, Ms. vanden
Heuvel said. "He is a valued columnist and
we have every intention of working
together for the long term."[...]
This column ran on page 6 in the
3/8/99 edition of The New York
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