Hitchens v. Blumenthal, Part 5

Chatterbox really had intended to stop writing today about the Hitchens-Blumenthal conflict. But in his self-appointed role as referee to this pissing match, he feels duty bound to halt the beating-up of Christopher Hitchens, whose motivation is widely being portrayed as mere opportunism. “Over the last four days,” writes Randy Kennedy in today’s New York Times,” Mr. Hitchens has lost several friends and found few defenders–and none willing to go on the record.” Can this really be true? How hard did the Times look?

Chatterbox doesn’t think it was wise of Hitchens to stumble into Flytrap. However, he doesn’t doubt that Hitchens was motivated by sincere belief that he was exposing information relevant to the obstruction charges against Clinton. Chatterbox doesn’t agree the information was relevant, but does agree that Clinton behaved deplorably when he told Sid Blumenthal that Monica was some sort of deluded stalker. (It was deplorable even if Clinton didn’t expect Blumenthal to repeat it.) Hitchens has behaved foolishly, but not dishonorably, unless you think friendship always trumps principle. (Chatterbox doesn’t.)

The Times piece also sneers in an unfair way at Hitchens’ writings, reflecting mainstream journalism’s intolerance of non-mainstream opinion. It notes that when “the entire world seemed to be mourning Diana, the Princess of Wales, in 1997, Mr. Hitchens was heaping scorn on her and drawing a lot of attention to himself.” That doesn’t jibe with Chatterbox’s recollection, which is that Hitchens described Diana as a rather charming person but described the British monarchy (correctly, in Chatterbox’s view) as a ridiculous antidemocratic artifact that should be done away with. While Chatterbox is at it, he will add that folks should stop dismissing The Missionary Position, the pamphlet Hitchens wrote debunking Mother Teresa, as some sort of sophomoric stunt. Chatterbox found much to disagree with in that book (Mother Teresa sucks up to unsavory types–so show me a charity CEO who doesn’t). But–especially when the media was giving Mother Teresa’s passing blanket adulatory coverage–the world ought to have paid closer attention to Hitchens’ most interesting line of attack (which was backed up by testimony from medical experts): Mother Teresa’s clinics were stingy with analgesics, very possibly because of her conviction that suffering brings us closer to God. (Chatterbox assumes that Mother Teresa’s defenders have some counterargument to offer, but he’s never seen them make it.)

Coda: Because Chatterbox really doesn’t want to take ultimate sides in the Hitchens-Blumenthal slugfest–and in view of the fact that this column has now linked to two of Hitchens’ books–I’d love to link to Blumenthal’s books, but they’re out of print.

–Timothy Noah