Why they cried when Hitchens died

There were lots more opinions where these came from, and any combination of two or three of them, expressed with Hitchens’s ardor and bloody-minded indifference to fact, would have got any one else run out of polite society. In media circles—not to be confused with polite society, I know—even the whole package couldn’t disqualify Hitchens. Where his polemics failed as models of logic or casemaking, they excelled as attention-getters. Only his later embrace of Republican foreign policy threatened his hallowed place among media people, but the threat was temporary and finally inconsequential.

After his death, I puzzled over the universal praise and its intensity. I thought of his charm, his learning, the preternatural fluency of his writing. But surely mere talent and amiability weren’t enough to indemnify him so thoroughly among the journalistic class that memorialized him so excessively. No, that required fame, the ultimate inoculation.

And then I remembered the Dreyfuss story. Hitchens might not have been famous back then, but he wanted to be, and he worked hard at it, and in the end, as he knew, he could reap fame’s rewards from a class of people for whom mere fame is the ultimate intoxication—far more impressive than learning or talent or rigorous argument. The scurrilous opinions might bring him fame, but the fame would guarantee that the opinions wouldn’t matter.