‘Hitchens Drank and Smoked His Way Through [AAN] Speech’

This morning AAN’s former executive director Richard Karpel tweeted a link to this C-SPAN video of Christopher Hitchens’ speech at the association’s 1998 annual convention in Washington, D.C.

“Hitchens drank scotch* and smoked his way through this speech. Was discreet enough to keep it hidden under the podium.” (see update below)

In an email, Karpel elaborated:

We agreed to pay him the paltry sum of $500 to speak at the D.C. convention. He did such a fabulous job that I ended up sending him $750 instead. (I have kept this information hidden from the AAN board for all these years, but I think it’s now safe for me to reveal this abuse of my authority.) Afterwards, I received a nice phone call from him thanking me for the gesture. He was acerbic as hell, but also a really nice guy.

Another, less happy memory from that convention: We booked Ralph Nader to speak at the same time as Hitchens, and put him in a smaller meeting room next to the one Hitchens was in. One of the worst programming mistakes I ever made. Just ask Tim Redmond.

Hawes Spencer, who was the editor of C-Ville Weekly at the time, recalled this exchange from the event:

“Mr. Hitchens,” I said, “What do you think about the fact that nearly all the newspapers represented in this room – certainly a majority of them – publish the same canned astrological advice column.”

“You mean a psychic column?” he asked.

“Yes, and I’m embarrassed to say that the column – Free Will Astrology – actually runs in our paper too.”

“Well,” said Hitch. “It’s long been my hope and my joy to take the reins of a local newspaper that has been running the prognostications of a psychic. In fact, it would give me great pleasure to type up the letter announcing his or her termination. It would start like this: ‘As you have no doubt already correctly predicted…'”

And that brought the house down.

A video of the entire, hour-long speech is available here.

* Updated 3:35 pm: After reviewing the game film, Karpel says that Hitchens appears to be drinking a clear liquid in the video. So while he remembers Hitchens drinking liquor during the speech, it might not have been Scotch specifically. We’ll forgive Richard for the memory lapse, since, judging by the hair, these events obviously took place a long time ago.