The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen has come under fire the past week for his column that said “conventional” people would be grossed out by New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s interracial family.
Cohen’s Nov. 11 opinion article, “Christie’s tea-party problem,” said that “today’s GOP is not racist” and went on to comment specifically about de Blasio:
“People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”
The Daily Beast’s Jamelle Bouie argued his column included “retrograde opinions on race” and “racist nonsense.” Slate noted there is a hashtag #FireRichardCohen.” The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins questioned where the editors of Cohen’s column were (or if they even existed). And Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert each ridiculed the column on their programs.
Despite the outrage, Cohen defended his column and said he isn’t racist, in an interview with the Huffington Post. Cohen argued that he wasn’t saying that he thought de Blasio’s family was gag-worthy, but that others do. “The column is about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held,” Cohen said.
Further, he denied that he’s racist. “It’s not who I am,” Cohen told the Huffington Post. “It’s not who I ever was. It’s just not fair. It’s just not right.”
And his editor, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt argued to Business Insider that maybe the one sentence referencing gagging wasn’t clear but that the column was fine. “Anyone reading Richard’s entire column will see he is just saying that some Americans still have a hard time dealing with interracial marriage,” Hiatt is quoted as saying. “I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted.”
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi also reported on the controversy surrounding the paper’s columnist. After listing some of the negative reactions, Farhi quoted Cohen again saying that it’s ridiculous for people to say he’s racist and distancing himself from the opinion he was expressing.
“What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. In fact, I exult in them,” he told Farhi. He added that the reaction calling him racist is “slander” and “just below the belt.”
Further, in response to those calling for his firing, Cohen commented that “I think it’s reprehensible to say that because you disagree with something that you should fire me. That’s what totalitarians do.”
Cohen acknowledged that “maybe the word was inappropriate,” but that the Post had no problem with his column. “Nobody, not a single one of my editors — and believe me, they’re super sensitive to this sort of stuff — said, ‘Wait a minute.’ They all knew what I meant because of the context of the column. I was talking about Tea Party extremism. And it’s clear.”
In yet another defense, Cohen claimed he’s written “I don’t know, 100 columns in favor of homosexual rights, many columns in favor of same sex marriage.”
Fellow Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson commented on MSNBC about the column saying the gag comment shouldn’t have been published.
“I’ve known Richard for a long time, and I have to take him at his word that it was inartfully written and Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, at his word that it was inartfully edited, that he didn’t pay enough attention to it,” Robinson said. “But clearly, that passage as it appeared in the paper should not have appeared that way and I think it was a mistake.”
See video of Robinson’s comments below:
The Washington Post published on Nov. 15 a selection of letters responding to Cohen’s column. Two of the four letters were in support of Cohen.
Cohen is no stranger to controversy. Mother Jones‘s Matt Connolly collected “Richard Cohen’s 10 Worst Moments, Counted Down.” The list included his 2010 column defending Roman Polanski, his column in 2009 in defense of torture, and his recent column commenting that slavery was bad after he had seen the movie 12 Years a Slave.