Me and Hitchens Down by the Schoolyard: Ex-Leftist Pundit Issues McCarthyite Threat to Dissenting Reader

Former Nation columnist and recent neo-conservative
convert Christopher Hitchens leaves a threateningly conspiratorial
telephone message–complete with blimpish accent–in response to a reader’s letter criticizing
his endorsement of Bush’s candidacy: “I get a lot of letters from uncultured idiots,
as I daresay you can imagine, and I normally simply
toss them. But I’m obliged to keep a list, and share
it… You made the list, and it will be
shared. I hope this is our last contact… but it might
not be. Goodbye.” Hear it for yourself with the attached audio link!

2005.01.10

The past election is widely viewed as having
produced a level of ugliness and recrimination
unmatched in our time. I can attest to this phenomenon
personally, because on Wednesday, November 24th,
former Nation columnist and recent neo-conservative
convert Christopher Hitchens left me a threatening
telephone message in response to a letter criticizing
his endorsement of Bush’s candidacy. I thought that a record of
this exchange in a public forum such as this one might
be an illuminating sign of the times.

Some background, perhaps, is in order. Hitchens’s
column, which ran in the Nation issue of November 8th, is,
it seems to me, a nearly incoherent rant laden with
equivocation and delivered in a tone of stunning
arrogance. He alludes vaguely to the “all-knowing,
stupid smirks,” “sneers,” “paranoid innuendoes,” and
“nihilism” of the Bush opposition before stating, of
the Iraq war, “I am proud of what little I have done
to forward this revolutionary cause.”

My response, quite frankly, was written more out of
therapeutic venting than any hope of registering some
level of dissent to this insanity. I should state that
although I accused Hitchens of waffling and
equivocating and referred to his column as “bullshit,”
there was absolutely nothing even tacitly threatening
in my message. It was an expression of intense
irritation, bluntly put–and equal in vehemence, I
thought, to the tone of the piece that provoked it. On
November 24th I received the following message on my
answering service (for the full effect of Mr.
Hitchens’s blimpish accent, the recording should be heard):

Mr. Lindgren, it’s Christopher Hitchens calling you
here. I get a lot of letters from uncultured idiots,
as I daresay you can imagine, and I normally simply
toss them. But I’m obliged to keep a list, and share
it, of letters that might be menacing, or from people
who are unstable or in some clinical condition, and
one way I decide that is if they use, or resort to,
four letter words and sign it themselves–and you’ve
just made the cut. You made the list, and it will be
shared. I hope this is our last contact… but it might
not be. Goodbye.

Following is my reply, by letter:

Dear Mr. Hitchens:

Thank you for your telephone message of Wednesday
24th, in response to my letter regarding your
pre-election column in The Nation. I apologize for the
use of the profanity, which I shall endeavor not to
use, and I am sorry it frightened you.

It strikes me as amusing that you would respond to an
expression of disagreement with a McCarthyite threat
about “lists” of names being compiled and “shared” and
so on. Regarding the denigration of my sanity, I do
not agree that exercising the rights guaranteed in the
First Amendment is a sign of mental instability.

Michael Lindgren

I have not since heard back from Mr. Hitchens.
Obviously, I am alarmed at the idea of journalists
actively threatening people who disagree with
them with shadowy “lists.” I must say, however, that I
also find the whole imbroglio really very, very funny–and also exhilarating in a strange way. Best of all,
should I have further contact with Mr. Hitchens I can
now tell him that he has “made the cut” on my list,
and that it too is being shared.

mike_lindgren@yahoo.com


[In response to concerned readers’ puzzlement over the omission of the exact text of his original letter to Christopher Hitchens, Michael Lindgren writes:

I have
to confess a failure on my part. I did not, in
fact, keep a copy of the original letter to Mr.
Hitchens, having dashed it off in a fit of pique (a
mistake I will surely never make again). I have
managed to construct a mental record of the note,
but
I can’t be sure that it is absolutely accurate, and
I
did not want to lie about it…. I
had included a card which had my phone number on it,
on the theory that it is somewhat cowardly to write a
letter of dissent without providing the means for
rebuttal.

Of course Mr. Hitchens is always welcome to come forth with the copy of the original letter that he presumably has filed away in a very safe and secret place. – tE, 2005.01.25]

Author: Michael Lindgren

News Service: theExperiment

URL: http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=2107