Christopher Hitchens Fends Off Charges of Apartheid Complicity
It's getting to the point where you can't call a premier American statesman a war criminal without taking flak of your own. Christopher Hitchens, possibly the world's greatest gadfly, learned this lesson last week at the Union Square Barnes & Noble as he made the case for indicting Henry Kissinger. Encouraging questions from the audience about Kissinger's involvement in bloody Indochinese, Chilean and East Timorese affairs, Hitchens found himself under attack by Brooklyn-based writer Philip Nobile for alleged complicity in Vanity Fair's "apartheid" hiring practices. And the Hitch wasn't having that.
Hitchens had spent more than an hour discussing the charges levied in his new book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, before opening the floor. Most questions centered around?well, Kissinger, as expected. But Nobile, who has freelanced a few pieces that appeared in New York Press over the years, desired to issue "a challenging question" to Hitchens, who at times appeared less than interested.
"Chris, are you listening?" Nobile wondered.
"Sir," Hitchens said, to through-the-teeth laughter. The media-saturated crowd adored the Vanity Fair and Nation contributor, and he didn't disappoint his fan base, serving up measures of his dry wit and righteous venom to downtown-left specifications. Barnes & Noble staff knew the value of Hitchens' glory, turning the other cheek and a discreetly opened window to the scribe as he smoked on the enlightened bookseller's fourth floor.
Anyhow, it seems Nobile counted only one black scribe, George Wayne, on the VF masthead. Describing Hitchens' affiliation with the magazine as "your complicity in a crime"?in comparison with Kissinger's?and citing "moral consistency [as] one of your intellectual calling cards," Nobile asked the author if he would, "as a matter of conscience, and to put affirmative action in action, consider going on strike until Vanity Fair has the decency to hire at least one black editor and writer?"
Some rolled their eyes. Others applauded. Hitchens fumed. "There's always one at every meeting," he said, incredulous about perceived unconcern with an hour's worth of noted atrocities. "Then you find what really upsets you."
Nobile bristled. Hitchens pulled the safety off, growling, "Stop nodding your fat head?sit down and shut up!" Nobile stuck to his point, calling the absence of black writers at Vanity Fair and elsewhere "a cultural crisis, a real media crisis." Hitchens said Nobile was a "time-waster," and fielded a question about the subject at hand from a black senior citizen.
As Hitchens signed copies of his book, Nobile nursed his kicked ass. Shellshocked at moments?"Being called fat! By Christopher Hitchens!"?Nobile said he's brought up the issue to Hitchens before. (Hitchens confirmed such exchanges later, saying the charges didn't merit a reply.) But even Nobile gave Hitchens his respects, however backhanded: "It was a disgrace for Christopher, [who's] a kind of Herculean polemicist." Nobile said the two of them have known each other for years, "phone pals" who have cultivated "a friendly correspondence." Meanwhile, Hitchens supporters like the East Village's Moshe Chaim Silverglad berated Nobile for interrupting the Kissinger discussion. Nobile borrowed a page from Hitchens' book. "I find you dull and boring," he said to Silverglad. "But you're not fat."
Hitchens said Nobile overstated their relationship. "More like a patient correspondence," he said, arching his eyebrows. "I'm patient with him." The Herculean polemicist added that Nobile's tone on the race issue has been "menacing"?a "very New York Press style." In fact, Hitchens went on, Nobile's relentlessness has been downright "Cockburnian," a truly piercing charge in light of Cockburn's criticism of Hitchens in last week's edition of our "really scabby sheet."
In a phone conversation the next day, Nobile expressed surprise and disappointment. "The sudden distance he's suggesting between us is false," he said. "Chris and I have had only friendly relations as two left-wing radicals over the last several years."
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