Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2004 / 27 Tishrei, 5765
A close encounter of the Hitchens kind
PITTSBURGH When Christopher Hitchens saw my pair of tickets to the Henry Kissinger speech, his sleepy eyes lit up half a block of Liberty Avenue.
Of course he'd walk 'round to Heinz Hall. Of course he'd try to publicly ask Kissinger why he refuses to answer questions about the crimes against humanity. Hitchens and others believe the former secretary of state is morally if not legally responsible for in Indochina, Chile and East Timor.
He was the Christopher Hitchens, journalist-provocateur extraordinaire. He had 80 minutes before he had to return to the Harris Theater. And the French documentary film crew he had recruited led by European superstar philosopher-journalist Bernard Henri-Levy had already launched its raid on Heinz Hall, where Kissinger was opening Robert Morris University's 2004-05 speakers series.
You've probably seen Hitchens being interrupted on TV by Chris Matthews.
The brilliant, permanently rumpled Brit has made his fame and fortune working in America's swelling punditry sector, writing columns for The Nation and Vanity Fair and books like "The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice."
Hitchens, 55, until recently was the darling bad-boy of the American left. But the events of 9/11, and the creepy "America-kind-of-deserved-it" reaction it drew from his old comrades, have turned him into a hawk on Iraq and supporter of Bush's global war on "Islamic fascism."
Hitchens still dislikes Kissinger, however, which is why he was happy fly in Tuesday to host "The Other Kissinger Event." A clever piece of agitprop dreamed up by the City Paper's departing editor Andy Newman, it "counterprogrammed" Kissinger's speech at Heinz Hall by concurrently showing the 2002 documentary film "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" at the Harris.
At 8:30 Hitchens introduced the movie based on his book "The Trial of Henry Kissinger." As about 140 patrons watched it, we hot-footed it to Heinz Hall, where the Frenchmen had already learned that in America you don't just rudely barge into a public venue, even a taxpayer-subsidized one, with cameras blazing.
When we arrived, Heinz Hall security forces and a city cop were insisting that the French journalists (in America for a multimedia project retracing de Tocqueville's 1831 travels) had to turn over their videotape or erase their footage.
American Citizen Hitch put up a fight, arguing that this act of thuggish censorship was despicable and probably unconstitutional. It was futile, and the incident ended civilly and without bloodshed, as most fights do when the French are involved. The tape of Kissinger's nearly indecipherable mumblings was erased.
Despite everyone's darkest suspicions, however, it had nothing to do with the Patriot Act or Kissinger's residual evil powers but with the anti-videotaping prohibitions of Robert Morris' contract with the speakers bureau that provided Kissinger.
Meanwhile, Hitchens' hopes of ambushing Kissinger also were dashed: All queries were to be culled from those submitted earlier in writing by the audience.
We middle-aged troublemakers didn't stick around for question time. But it's a sure bet no one got to ask what Hitchens would have:
"Sir, why won't you answer the requests of magistrates in democratic countries to assist them in their hunt for the missing and tortured and the disappeared that took place on your watch? They're not asking to indict you. They only want you as a witness. What would it hurt, just to help them as a witness?"
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald