When I sat down to interview Peter Hitchens for my YouTube channel this year, I put a question to him before the camera was turned on. I asked why he had taken time over the years to give many younger interviewers without massive platforms, like myself, opportunities to interview him. “You need all the help you can get,” he replied.
As I write this, Hitchens remains one of just two people with a massive platform to have been the subject of a long-form interview on my channel. The other was Michael Brooks, who I interviewed in May. It was only a couple of months after that interview when the devastating news emerged that Brooks had died at the age of 36. His sister Lisha has since confirmed his death was caused by a blood clot in his throat.
The majority of people with large platforms who I’ve asked for interviews on my channel haven’t replied. I’m not bitter about that as I fully understand they’re likely to have incredibly busy schedules. But what this does mean is that I have a large amount of appreciation for people like Brooks and Hitchens who did take the time to respond and give me a shot. My commitment to being as unbiased as possible in my interviews on my channel meant I didn’t present myself as an ideological ally to either when I approached them, but both were still happy to be interviewed.
Tributes to Brooks following his death have shown that I wasn’t the only the person he gave a chance. “Michael started inviting me on his show within months of my quietly beginning to write for Jacobin, long before anyone else cared what I had to say,” wrote Jacobin magazine staff writer Meagan Day. “Whatever confidence I have that my ideas deserve a hearing, I owe a lot of it to Michael, who became my friend,” she added. “To be interviewed by him was wonderful because in the grand scheme of things I’m not a big shot of a name and he had no reason to bother with me,” leftist writer Ralph Leonard told me. “To think that he took my views seriously and thought they were worth giving a hearing too gave me a lot of confidence,” he went on to say. Left-wing political commentator Kyle Kulinski has also spoken of how Brooks was “willing to give people a chance”.
There are many differences between Michael Brooks and Peter Hitchens, not least politically. The former was an American socialist talk show host who really wanted Bernie Sanders to become US President and Jeremy Corbyn to become UK Prime Minister, while the latter is a conservative British newspaper columnist who thinks the UK is finished and doesn’t vote. But both deserve respect for, among other things, their intellectual curiosity.
What Brooks shared with Hitchens was a strong desire to understand the world beyond his home country as well as perspectives he strongly disagreed with. “I read Hitchens,” Brooks told me when he learned that I’d interviewed him. I hadn’t known that before but, being aware of Brooks’ intellectual curiosity, it came as no massive surprise to me.
Having interviewed Brooks and watched many videos featuring him, it’s clear to me he had a lot of confidence in his political positions. But this confidence wasn’t unjustified. Brooks was obviously a very well-read person who devoted much time in his life to researching different political subjects. “He retained everything he read, it seemed,” his friend and TV personality Ben Mankiewicz said in a video posted on Twitter.
Brooks laughed and joked about politics many times with colleagues on his show (TMBS) and on the Majority Report talk show which he co-hosted. His impression of Barrack Obama will live long in the memory of many people who regularly tuned into both shows to hear him speak. But his use of humour doesn’t mean people should lose sight of how insightful a political commentator he was. Indeed, his humour was at times integral to him getting serious points across effectively.
Brooks’ sudden death is made all the more heartbreaking by the fact it came in a year in which he had accomplished a lot professionally. In April alone, his book ‘Against the Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right‘ was published, he started co-hosting a live show for Jacobin with fellow left-wing political commentator Ana Kasparian and he interviewed intellectuals Slavoj Zizek and Cornel West on TMBS. Earlier in the year, Brooks went to Brazil and interviewed a hero of his, the country’s former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. “May his passion for social justice be remembered and inspire people around the world,” Lula said of Brooks in response to the news of his death. A month before he died, Brooks also managed to interview Noam Chomsky on TMBS.
I didn’t know Brooks well on a personal level. I had no more than a handful of exchanges with him, all to do with our interview. But I remember him being very easy-going and respectful towards me when we did interact. His keenness to give me an opportunity as a young journalist will always be something I remember.
His tragic death at such a young age serves as a reminder of the fragility of life itself. But, even in a life that was ultimately far too short, he unquestionably managed to have a positive impact on very many people. I’m proud to say I was one of those people.
It was my honour to interview Michael Brooks. May he rest in peace.