The political and media firestorm about Richard Cohen’s recent column, as typical, missed the real issues.
The Washington Post’s opinion/editorial page (op-ed) columnist. Richard M. Cohen, wrote the following the day (November 10th) after the recent mid-term elections:
“Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. 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.”
Like Mr. Cohen, I was watching the celebration for Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory in the recent New York City mayor’s race. My initial thought when Mayor-elect de Blasio’s multicultural family joined him on the podium was, “This is the real Modern Family and the world gets to see it. It’s remarkable and wonderful. ” My second thought was “I’m sure the right-wing media will go crazy over de Blasio’s victory”.
And the right-wing New York Post was not happy with de Blasio or his family.
The real problem with what Cohen wrote wasn’t his use of “gag reflex,” as many in the media have dwelled upon, it was his use of the term ” people with conventional views”. When you read the column, it becomes clear that Cohen was not referring to himself. I do object to his inclusion of de Blasio’s wife sexuality because it is used in a demeaning manner and denigrates her husband’s and her family’s celebration. It was a gratuitous snarky reference and was in poor taste.
To be fair, Cohen is not 100% to blame for this situation. I wrote a column for the Washington Post-Newsweek syndicate for three years. Every column is edited, fact checked and reviewed for accuracy. The column then goes back to the columnist for review before being sent to the editorial page director for approval to publish. Someone in this loop, besides Cohen, should have questioned the appropriateness of “gag reflex” and what he meant by “people with conventional views”. Those racially charged and biased words should never have made it into print.
So who are these people and what are these “conventional views” that Cohen refers? There are many polls and surveys that show conventional views about controversial subjects that show how American attitudes have changed.
While change is inevitable, those who cannot or will not change their beliefs with the times get left behind. The publisher and editor of Talking Points Memo , Josh Marshall, says what Cohen meant in a much clearer and less divisive manner.
“A whole swath of America feels like it’s on the losing side of vast social change – changing sexual mores, growing racial diversity, facing a brave new world in which whites are no longer the overwhelming, dominant and uncontested majority population but simply the dominant majority or eventually dominant plurality population. This whole perception, correct from one perspective, really is behind the whole cavalcade of fear, anger, revanche and the generalized perception on the hard right that the country is at a turning point of change from which there will be no going back. It’s the score behind the Shutdown libretto.”
This is not the first time, Mr. Cohen has created controversy with his columns. He has written that it is acceptable for store owners and taxicab drivers to refuse service to young black men. On July 13th, he wrote a column “Racism vs. Reality”. In it, he writes “Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime.” In 2005, his column, “A Warning From Gays To Gays”, he states, “ Simply put, it is the determination of some gays — a minority, but a substantial one — to disregard all the rules for safe sex because being gay, they think, means you don’t have to follow any rules at all. That’s just plain dumb.” And yet, the Washington Post continues to publish his hate and venom.
Richard Cohen is the past and, like his paper, he appears to still be living in it. His column says more about the increasing irrelevance of the Washington Post than it does about his dwindling influence. The formerly august Washington Post, under the leadership of Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee, was a daily must read for those who closely follow politics and world events.
Today, other than the column of the “smart kids”, Ezra Klein’s and Sarah Kliff’s Wonkblog, and the columns of the always insightful E.J. Dionne, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson, the columnists in the Post’s op-ed section are either old and out-of-touch or not worth reading. What happened to the paper that once featured the great Mary McGrory, Art Buchwald, and Meg Greenfield?
Richard Cohen’s column is indicative of how much the Post’s op-ed section needs to change. Who wants to read most of the opinions the paper publishes anymore? What Kathleen Parker writes is dumb. What Jennifer Rubin writes is hateful and biased. Does anyone really care about what the Post’s aging, angry white males; David Ignatius, Robert Samuelson, Charles Krauthammer and George Will; have to say? And I’m not the only columnist who feels this way.
The Post has become one of the media leaders in promoting false equivalency, where opinions from all points of view and political perspectives are considered equally relevant and must be reported, no matter how uninformed, biased or dumb they are. No, all opinions are not equal. No, the uninformed , biased and dumb opinion columns do not need to be published. I hope under the leadership of its new owner, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, the Post will start phasing out its geriatric and poor op-ed columnists and add to its small contingent of young, bright, and talented ones. It is time for one of the formerly great newspapers to develop modern points-of-view.
I have a saying: Opinions are like noses, everybody has one. But noses are like opinions, when infected, shouldn’t be blown in public. Mr. Cohen’s opinion was infected with racial and cultural bias, whether intentional or not. I don’t read his column regularly, but in reading reviews of his recent columns, he appears to show an increasing degree of racial animus. The views of Richard Cohen and the Washington Post’s editorial page are no longer conventional, because they do not reflect the changes in opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of the country.
Welcome, Washington Post to The Modern Family where marriage is not just between a white man and white woman. You really need to come out of the Stone Ages. The de Blasio family members are not The Flinstones; they are the new bedrock of the United States.
The de Blasio’s are the real modern family.