To the editors:
I was recently the subject of a Hot Type column by Jeffrey Felshman [July 25] which presented me as a tyro journalist taken advantage of by that wily old pro, Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn.
Well, I do feel taken advantage of–but by Felshman and the Reader, not by Cockburn. Felshman misquoted me and seriously, and I now think deliberately, distorted my views.
The subject of the column was my dismissal from In These Times by editor James Weinstein, Cockburn’s column about my firing, and the subsequent exchange between Cockburn and Weinstein in the letters pages of the Nation. At the end of his article, Jeffrey Felshman quoted me as saying “Cockburn had the essential story right but got the details wrong.” He then concluded, seemingly on my authority, “That’s because Cockburn wrote the column before speaking to Mason–he heard the story of Mason’s firing from a mutual friend.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
What I actually told Felshman was that Weinstein had fired me for printing articles whose authors and arguments he couldn’t stomach politically, just as Cockburn wrote. But, I said, on reflection I thought the articles that had most aroused Weinstein’s ire were not exactly the ones mentioned by Cockburn. This difference in emphasis (which is really just a matter of speculation), I was quick to add, was only a minor detail, and in all the essentials–in everything that mattered–Cockburn had gotten the story exactly right. This latter comment was transmogrified by Felshman into “Cockburn had the essential story right but got the details wrong.” Not so: Cockburn had everything right–he just didn’t happen to mention an article I’d printed by Bob Fitch that made Weinstein particularly mad.
And how did Cockburn get the story right? By calling me and talking to me. Which brings us to Felshman’s closing sentence, a blatant falsehood. Not only did I never say any such thing to Felshman, but when–at my request–he read me the finished piece, I told him that the last sentence was not correct, that Cockburn did speak to me and I had confirmed everything he wrote before the column went to press, and that the sentence had to go. Instead, Felshman simply changed the wording slightly and left the false implication intact.
I was inclined to just pass this off as a lazy journalist looking for an angle–that notorious loose cannon Cockburn, everyone knows about him–for what is, after all, not much of a story: the firing of a junior editor from a tiny magazine. But I’ve since learned that Felshman is a close friend of James Weinstein and wrote the Reader piece at his behest. As Felshman confided to me, he’d set out to write an article about how Cockburn had distorted the story of my firing; nothing I said to the contrary was able to sway him from this fixed idea. Now I understand why. Weinstein’s hostility to Cockburn far predates this latest exchange, and, as anyone who’s worked with him knows, Weinstein is a man who knows how to hold a grudge. I’m deeply disturbed to have been made a party to this vendetta, and even more disturbed to have had a nasty and dishonest smear against Cockburn put into my mouth. For the record, I have as much respect for Cockburn as for any political writer alive. Certainly, based on my experience with both of them, he is a far more careful and professional journalist than Jeffrey Felshman.
Jeffrey Felshman replies:
I’ll admit that I’m lazy, not conspiratorial. I accepted an assignment to write that column with no urging from Weinstein (who is not, and has never been, either a coconspirator or a “close friend” of mine). I’m sorry Mason has come to believe he was misquoted, but the disputed words are recorded verbatim in my notes; as to when he’d spoken with Cockburn, he certainly did give the impression (twice) that it was after the column was written. Maybe I dozed off during our conversations and dreamed this, but I doubt it.