This article originally appeared in the January 10, 1984, issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Village Voice staff writer Alexander Cockburn, a journalist noted for his media criticism and for his biting criticism of Israel, accepted $10,000 in 1982 as a fellowship from an organization promoting Arab causes. Cockburn did not bring this development to the attention of his editor or his readers. Voice editor David Schneiderman first learned of Cockburn’s fellowship last Wednesday, when the Phoenix asked him for comment. Reached later that day, Cockburn said in an interview that he has been planning to return the money.
The payment to Cockburn from the Institute of Arab Studies, a national organization with headquarters in Belmont, was authorized on August 24, 1982. Three men who were members of the institute’s board of directors at the time told the Phoenix that the money was meant to enable Cockburn to write a book about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. One of the three acknowledged that Cockburn’s sympathy to Arab and Palestinian causes — rare in the US media, both Cockburn and Arab spokesmen contend — was one reason he was selected for the fellowship.
In a telephone interview, Cockburn told the Phoenix that he saw no conflict of interest in applying for and accepting the fellowship. He rejected any suggestion that the institute was a lobbying organization and said that if it were he would not have accepted the money. “We have turned down trips that were clearly paid for by interest groups,” he said. “The Institute is not a lobbying organization, but a very reputable group. I received a travel and research grant from the institute to conduct an investigation of the events in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. I proposed to go to Lebanon and Israel and work over a lot of history and do a long examination of the reporting of it, which I’ve written about extensively in the Voice. Since then, I haven’t been able to get away, and I don’t think that I’ll be able to do it, what with the elections coming up. I’ll have to return the money. I’ve been holding on to it.”
Cockburn said he saw no need to announce the receipt of the money from a group whose causes he has advanced. “My views on the Middle East are extremely well known,” he said. “If a book had come out of this, it would have thanked the Institute of Arab Studies for making the book possible. If I had gone and traveled on their money, I certainly would have noted that.”
When first called by the Phoenix last Wednesday, Schneiderman said he knew nothing of the grant or the Institute of Arab Studies. He said that if Cockburn had received such a fellowship, he — Schneiderman — should have been informed. Schneiderman later managed to reach Cockburn, who was traveling in Florida, and Cockburn called the Phoenix.
Later that day, in a second interview, Schneiderman said there was no reason for the newspaper to announce Cockburn’s fellowship. “The award he got was to write a book, not material in the Village Voice,” Schneiderman said. "I believe his grant may have been published in a booklet put out by the institute, and he told his partner, James Ridgeway.” Ridgeway and Cockburn co-author a political column for the New York weekly; in addition, Cockburn writes a column of media criticism.