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 Posted Monday, March 8, 1999

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The New York Observer
March 8, 1999

Hitchens Put on Trial Before an Angry Nation

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 1982.

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 with Christopher … 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 prosecutor."

Mr. Hitchens 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 misogynist.

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 come."

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 course.

"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. Hitchens happy.

"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 Observer.


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  Looks like Christopher's days are numbered. Welcome to the Ranks of The Undead...

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