The issue here is not one of legality or morality, but one of propriety. Is it proper for a journalist to accept money from a special interest whose concerns he or she regularly writes about? And if the acceptance of money is proper, is it proper to do so without informing one’s editor and one’s public?
"The few times anyone here has taken money from a cultural group overseas, we announce that right in the article,” Schneiderman said. “If anyone goes on a junket to a rock concert sponsored by someone else, we say so.” The issue with Cockburn, Schneiderman insists, is what this institute is all about. "I see no evidence that it does lobbying. They do research, scholarly things. They’re tax-exempt — a charitable, tax-exempt institution. I would like to look into the group more and find out more about it.”
What makes the story of this fellowship particularly interesting is that Cockburn, in his weekly “Press Clips” column, uncovers incidents of sloppiness, error, conflicts of interest, presumption, and pious hypocrisy among other reporters and their editors and publishers. He has taken on not only other journalists, but his own editor. During one of the Voice’s countless internecine fracases, in the June 24, 1981, issue, Cockburn called Schneiderman “an agile liberal entrepreneur, the morally indifferent PT Barnum of headline, picture, and story.” Cockburn, of course, takes home a regular paycheck from what some journalists would regard as the morally indifferent Rupert Murdoch organization, whose US holdings include the Voice, New York magazine, the New York Post, and the Boston Herald. And Cockburn’s critics accuse him of being morally indifferent himself to the excesses of communists, Arabs, and third-world guerrillas. Cockburn responds enthusiastically to such charges — defending himself, rarely admitting any error, and attacking both the motives and conclusions of his critics.
David Denby, film critic for New York magazine and a former Phoenix staffer, wrote in the January 31, 1983, New Republic that Cockburn had “a talent for savage ridicule and satire, a truly elegant swiftness and urgency. . . . He is a talented, despicable writer who enjoys vicious teasing as a kind of journalistic blood sport — perhaps the perfect writer for a period of low activity on the left." Another journalist calls Cockburn a “salon Stalinist.”
Cockburn is a formidable stylist and a hard-working, prolific writer, who seems to have acquired his leftist philosophy more through family tradition and education than through any first-hand bouts with serious oppression and poverty. Of Scotch-Irish descent, he is a 42-year-old Oxford graduate, the son of Claud Cockburn, a humorist, author, and left-wing journalist who spent decades twitting his English peers. In addition to his columns for the Voice, Cockburn has written and co-authored a number of books and has contributed to Harper’s, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. And as of 1982, he was $10,000 richer, thanks to the Institute of Arab Studies.
According to its literature, the Institute of Arab Studies, housed at 556 Trapelo Road in Belmont, began operating in 1980 “to afford writers, scholars, artists, poets, and professionals an opportunity to pursue the full exploration of the Arab dimension of world history through their special fields of interest. . . . Fellows and scholars and the Institute will pursue their research at the Institute and in libraries in the Boston area and will participate in colloquia and lectures at the IAS.”