When veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas retired at 89, after telling a video camera-wielding reporter from RabbiLive.com that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine," the generous interpretation was that the trailblazing female reporter had erred in not quitting sooner.
Richard Cohen of The Washington Post today finds himself in similar circumstances. But instead of becoming a viral-video sensation based on an offensive off-the-cuff riff, he has deliberately chosen over the past year to stake out a series of controversial positions on hot-button racial questions that have eroded the reservoir of public good will toward his work when it comes to interpreting his views on race. He supported New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policy, said "racial profiling" was "proof not of racism" but of the demographics of gun crime, called Trayvon Martin "a young man understandably suspected because he was black," and recently recalled growing up in a world where "I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people—fellow Americans, after all."
Now the results of that erosion are on plain display.
The most generous interpretation of Cohen's astonishing statement in a column today that "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" is that he was incorrectly imputing views to others that he does not hold himself. But the fact is that 87 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, do not hold the views Cohen suggests are "conventional."