The writer and critic Doug Ireland died on Saturday, alone in his apartment in Manhattan, presumably from a stroke. He had had two previously. He was 67. I think that is exactly how Dougie wanted to go, on his own terms and nobody else’s.
I knew him in his later years, well after he joined Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s, at the tender age of 16, worked as a labor organizer in New Jersey, helped run Allard Lowenstein’s successful antiwar campaign for Congress and then managed radical feminist and antiwar activist Bella Abzug’s winning campaign for Congress in 1970 and her losing bid for the Senate in 1976.
It was said that he could have been the “next Jimmy Breslin,” but I think Dougie was too pure about his politics to ingratiate himself with enough people to win that label. And he came out in 1973, back when, as he put it, “you could count the number of openly gay journalists writing in the mainstream press on two hands.” Being gay and out was certainly not a positive career move.
Dougie was one of a dying breed of print mavens who knew how to get the early exit polls on Election Day, who worked the phones like a demon and who knew how to craft a bon mot. (The Nation, he once said, is “the best quarterly that comes out weekly.”) Nearly every politician and political hack he knew was a “gonif”; I suspect that Dougie knew more Yiddish than many Jews.
To his credit he made the switch from print to digital about a decade ago and launched his own blog, Direland (at my persistent urging), but he continued to write long and erudite essays and book reviews, contributing to In These Times, New York magazine, Paris’s Libération and many other publications, serving as Gay City News’s international contributing editor right up to his passing.
I first got to know Dougie through his stewardship of the “Press Clips” column at the Village Voice, which he wrote from 1989 to 1993 and turned into a fierce outpost of all that was true and needed to be said about New York, the media and national political trends. The column made him more enemies than friends, though, and the Voice eventually dumped him as part of its general purging of left-wing contributors that began in the mid-1990s.
I was an associate editor at The Nation then, and made the case to Victor Navasky and Katrina vanden Heuvel that we reach out to Dougie to contribute regularly to its pages. It was a lifeline that he appreciated, but it wasn’t a perfect fit. Dougie’s politics were to the left of Katrina and Victor’s (as were mine), and that led to some intense conflicts. And that wasn’t just because Dougie liked to test and provoke all of his editors. Those were the Clinton years.