Hitch the Snitch

“‘Okay,’ I said, giving him a chance to rationalize his snitching,which all informants have to do when they start out.”

J. Wambaugh, Blue Night

Many people go through life rehearsing a role they feel that the fateshave in store for them, and we’ve long thought that Christopher Hitchenshas been asking himself for years how it would feel to plant the Judas kiss.Indeed an attempted physical embrace has often been part of the rehearsal.Many’s the time male friends have had to push Hitchens’ mouth, fragrantwith martinis away, as, amid the welcomes and good-byes, he seeks theircheek or lips.

And now, as a Judas and a snitch, Hitchens has made the big time. OnFebruary 5, amid the embers of the impeachment trial, he trotted along toCongress and swore out an affidavit that he and his wife, Carol Blue, hadlunch with White House aide Sidney Blumenthal last March 19 and that Blumenthalhad described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. Since Blumenthal had just claimedin his deposition to the House impeachment managers that he had no ideahow this linking of the White House stalker stories had started, Hitchens’affidavit was about as flat a statement as anyone could want that Blumenthalhas perjured himself, thus exposing himself to a sentence of up to fiveyears in prison. At the very least, Hitchens has probably cost Blumenthalabout $100,000 in fresh legal expenses on top of the $200,000 tab he’s alreadyfacing. Some friend.

And we are indeed talking about friendship here. They’ve been pals foryears and Hitchens has not been shy about trumpeting the fact. Last spring,when it looked as though Blumenthal was going to be subpoenaed by prosecutorStarr for his journalistic contacts, Hitchens blared his readiness to standshoulder to shoulder with his comrade: “…together we have soldieredagainst the neoconservative ratbags,” Hitchens wrote in The Nationlast spring. “Our life a deux has been, and remains an open book. Doyour worst. Nothing will prevent me from gnawing a future bone at his tableor, I trust, him from gnawing in return.” This was in an edition ofThe Nation dated March 30, 1998, a fact which means — given The Nation’sscheduling practices– that Hitchens just writing these loyal lines immediatelybefore the lunch — Hitchens now says he thinks it was on March 17, at theOccidental Restaurant near the White House — whose conversational menuHitchens would be sharing with these same neo-conservative, right-wing ratbagsten months later.

The surest way to get a secret into mass circulation is to tell it toHitchens, swearing him to silence as one does so. His friends have knownthis for years. As a compulsive tattler and gossip Hitchens gets a frissonwe’d guess to be quasi-sexual in psychological orientation out of the actof tattling or betrayal.

This brings us to Hitchens’ snitch psychology, and the years of psychicpreparation that launched him into the affidavit against his friend Blumenthal.Like those who question themselves about the imagined future role — “wouldI really leap through fire to save my friend”, “would I stay silentif threatened with torture” — Hitchens has, we feel certain, broodedconstantly about the conditions under which he might snitch, or inform.A good many years ago we were discussing the German Baader-Meinhof gang,some of whose members were on the run at the time. Hitchens, as is his wont,stirred himself into a grand little typhoon of moral outrage against thegang, whose reckless ultra-leftism was, he said, only doing good to theright. “If one of them came to my front door seeking shelter,”Hitchens cried, “I would call the police in an instant and turn himin!” Would you just, we remember thinking at the time. We’ve oftenthought about that outburst since, and whether in fact Christopher was atsome level already in the snitch business.

Over the past couple of years the matter of George Orwell’s snitchinghas been a public issue. Orwell, in the dawn days of the cold war and notlong before his own death, compiled a snitch list of Commies and fellowtravelers and turned them over to Cynthia Kirwan, a woman for whom he’dhad the hots and who worked for the British secret police. Now, Orwell isHitchens’ idol, and he lost no time in defending Orwell’s snitch list inVanity Fair and The Nation. Finally, CounterPunch co-editor Alexander Cockburnwrote a Nation column giving the anti-Orwell point of view, taking the linethat the list was mostly idle gossip, patently racist and anti-Semitic,part and parcel of McCarthyism. Bottom line snitching to the secret policewouldn’t do. Hitchens seemed genuinely surprised by our basic position thatsnitching is a dirty business, to be shunned by all decent people.

Then, in the middle of last week, he snitched on Sidney. Why did he doit? We didn’t see him with Tim Russert on Meet The Press, but apparentlyhe looked ratty, his physical demeanor not enhanced by a new beard. We haveread the transcript where, as we anticipated, Hitchens says he simply couldn’tlet the Clinton White House get away with denials that they had been inthe business of slandering women dangerous to them, like Monica, or KathleenWilley.

There were couple of moments of echt Hitchens. Unlike Blumenthal, Hitchenssaid, “I don’t have a lawyer.” Only Hitchens could charge someonewith perjury and then sneer that the object of his accusations was contemptiblefor having a legal representative. And only Hitchens could publicly declareBlumenthal to have lied to Congress and then with his next breath affirmin a voice quivering with all the gallantry of loyal friendship that “Iwould rather be held in contempt of court” than to testify in any separatecourt action brought against Blumenthal.

Did Hitchens really think things through when he told the House impeachmentpeople towards the end of last week he was willing to swear out an affidaviton the matter of the famous March lunch? Does he think that with this affidavithe “reverse the whole impeachment tide, bring Clinton down? Or is he,as Joan Bingham told Lloyd Grove of the Washington Post, merely trying topromote a forthcoming book? A woman who knows Hitchens well and who is inclinedto forgive, has suggested that the booze has finally got to him and thathis behavior exhibits all the symptoms of chronic alcoholism: an impulsiveact, dramatically embarked upon and, in the aftermath, only vaguely apprehendedby the perp.

It’s true, Hitchens does drink a staggering amount with, as all acquaintanceswill agree, a truly amazing capacity to pull himself together and declaimin a coherent manner while pint of alcohol and gallons of wine are coursingthrough his bloodstream. But he does indeed seem only vaguely to understandwhat he has done to Sidney. On Sunday February 7, he was telling one journalistthat he still thought his friendship with Sidney could be saved. By Tuesday,he was filing a Nation column, once again reiterating his friendship forBlumenthal, intimating he’d done him a big favor, blaming Clinton for everythinghe, Hitchens, was doing to Blumenthal and concluding with a truly revoltingwhine of self-pity that the whole affair would probably end with he, Hitchens,being cited for contempt of court.

Perhaps more zealously than most, Hitchens has always liked to have itboth ways, identifying himself as a man of the left while, in fact being,as was his hero Orwell particularly towards the end of his life, a man ofthe right. “I dare say I’ll be cut and shunned,” he told the WashingtonPost and we had the sense of a halo being tried for size, with Hitchensmeasuring himself for martyrdom as the only leftist who can truly thinkthrough the moral consequences of Clintonism and take appropriate action.

But the problem is that even though Chris Buckley, also quoted by LloydGrove in the Washington Post, tried to dress up the affair with the historicaldignity of return of the duel between Alger Hiss and Whitaker Chambers,this is a footnote to history, costly though the footnote will be costlyto Blumenthal at least in lawyers’ fees. The worst price Hitchens will haveto pay will be in terms of Georgetown party invitations. In Georgetown,as Buckley also told Grove in The Washington Post, it is “a tectonicevent for our crowd.”

There is the final question: is Hitchens making it all up, about theMarch 17 lunch? Blumenthal says he has no recollection, and adds, as allagree, that there had already been hundreds of references in the press toMonica being a stalker, and he may just have repeated to Hitchens and Bluewhat he’d read in the papers. It was a month, remember, when the White Housewas being very careful in what it was saying about Monica because they wereuncertain which way she would jump and didn’t want to piss her off. JoeConason of The New York Observer, certainly an eager recipient of WhiteHouse slants at the time, says he spoke to Blumenthal in that period andBlumenthal refused to talk about Lewinsky at all. It’s true, Hitchens canbe a terrific fibber, but, short of willful misrepresentation, maybe, amidsthis insensate hatred for Clinton he’s remembered the conversation the wayhe deems it to have taken place rather than the way it actually happened.In his own affidavit Hitchens did not say that Blumenthal had directly citedClinton as describing Lewinsky as a stalker and on CNN he tagged only Blumenthalas describing Monica thus. Yet, in her affidavit, filed after her husband’sfrom the west coast where she has been staying, Carol Blue said that Blumenthalhad indeed cited Clinton has describing Lewinsky as a stalker and also ascrazy. It seems extraordinary that Hitchens and Blue couldn’t get theiraffidavits straight, and it seems that Blue’s affidavit was filed purelywith the intention of further damaging Blumenthal–which indeed it has.

We think Hitchens has done something utterly despicable. It wasn’t solong ago that he was confiding to a Nation colleague, in solemn tones, thatfor him the most disgusting aspect of the White House’s overall disgustingbehavior was “what they have done to my friend Sidney”. He’s probablystill saying it. Hitchens always could cobble up a moral posture out of the most unpromising material. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.