Richard Cohen's Friends Think He's Great

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen outed himself as a racist this morning to everyone who read his new column, except the editors and publisher of The Washington Post, where was a slight discrepancy from the popular conclusion. 

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The Washington Post's Richard Cohen outed himself as a racist this morning to everyone who read his column, except his editor and the publisher of The Washington Post, where there was a slight discrepancy from the popular conclusion.

Tuesday morning, a new Cohen opinion column about Chris Christie and the Tea Party appeared, and in it he writes interracial marriages make "people with conventional views... repress a gag reflex." Most reasonable people were shocked and outraged by Cohen's line, and called him out for being a racist schmuck. Others figured Jeff Bezos, the Post's new billionaire owner, might finally fire Cohen. After all, the veteran columnist does have a long history of letting racially charged statements into his column. (He also historically mentions his gag reflex in his writing.) But Cohen stands tall late Tuesday, a little hurt, but not deterred thanks to a little support from his friends.

Here's the quote from his column, in full:

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.

One of the first defenders from the Post was outgoing publisher Katherine Weymouth, who simply called the column "brilliant," on Twitter. Slowly but surely, more came out of the woodwork, including Opinions editor Fred Hiatt. In an interview with The Wrap, Hiatt acknowledged he should have edited the gag reflex line "more carefully," but stopped short of calling his columnist a racist.

Cohen was calling members of the Tea Party racist, Hiatt argued. Everyone reading who thought those "conventional views" about interracial couples making them want to puke were those of Cohen himself was wrong. "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 said. "I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted."

Cohen made nearly the exact same argument in an interview with the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone. "I didn't write one line, I wrote a column," he said. "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." But Cohen hedged when it came tome to dump those "conventional views" on the Tea Party, too:

"I don't think everybody in the Tea Party is like that, because I know there are blacks in the Tea Party," he said. "So they're not all racist, unless I'm going to start doing mind reading about why those black people are there."

Only a few of Richard Cohen's Tea Party friends are racist, and in the end that number still can't be very high, as Ezra Klein, Cohen's colleague at the Post, pointed out: 87 percent of Americans approve of interracial marriage.

When Calderone asked why Cohen used "gag reflex" to describe "conventional" feelings, the Post op-ed writer said no one on the Opinion desk could think of another way to say it. "I could have picked a better word, but it didn't ring any bells with anybody, it didn't ring any bells with me," he said. (As our Elle Reeve uncovered, Cohen often "gags" when he has something stuck in his throat.)

Cohen also fought back against the common perception that he's a conservative columnist, because in his mind he's "seen as a liberal." Calderone asked why Cohen keeps getting into racially charged controversies over his columns. Cohen thinks it's because he takes "an unconventional stance as a liberal," he said. Cohen does not see himself as right-wing:

"If someone on the right wrote this, no one would care. No one would make a big deal about it but because I veer every once in awhile from orthodoxy, or maybe more than once in awhile, I get plastered this way."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.