November 13, 2013

The Washington Post | The Wrap | The Huffington Post | The Atlantic | Slate | Mother Jones | Salon

I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage,” Richard Cohen told Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi. Cohen was talking about the rage, outrage and disgust that greeted his column about Chris Christie and the tea party, which included this riff about interracial marriage:

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.

Farhi offers a look back at other times Cohen’s words have outraged people, writing, “Cohen said he still enjoys writing his weekly column and intends to keep at it as long as the paper will have him. Or ‘until Gawker sends over a hit man,’ he said.”

The Post’s Ezra Klein points out in a column that, no, gagging over interracial marriage isn’t, actually, conventional at all, or statistically true.

Given the context of the column, I think that Cohen is using “conventional views” to mean “culturally conservative views.” But insofar as “conventional” means “based on or in accordance with what is generally done or believed,” acceptance of interracial marriage is overwhelmingly conventional. A July poll from Gallup finds that 87 percent of Americans approve — up from 4 percent in 1959.

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Sara Morrison in The Wrap that he should have edited the sentence more carefully.

“Anyone reading Richard’s entire column will see he is just saying that some Americans still have a hard time dealing with interracial marriage. I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted.”

Cohen told Katherine Fung and Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post that he was the one offended here. “The word racist is truly hurtful,” he said. “It’s not who I am. It’s not who I ever was. It’s just not fair. It’s just not right.”

“Context can not improve this,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic.

“Context” is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear. And horse-shit is the context in which Richard Cohen has, for all these years, wallowed. It is horse-shit to claim that store owners are right to discriminate against black males. It is horse-shit to claim Trayvon Martin was wearing the uniform of criminals. It is horse-shit to subject your young female co-workers to “a hostile work environment.” It is horse-shit to expend precious newsprint lamenting the days when slovenly old dudes had their pick of 20-year-old women. It is horse-shit to defend a rapist on the run because you like The PianistAnd it is horse-shit for Katharine Weymouth, the Post‘s publisher, to praise a column with the kind of factual error that would embarrass a j-school student.

Cohen’s depiction of right-wing views on interracial marriage are just lazy, David Weigel writes in Slate.

He could have asked Tea Partiers whether they were bothered by Clarence Thomas’s marriage to a white woman, given that she took a (short-lived) role as a would-be Tea Party leader in 2009 and 2010. He could have asked about their reaction to FreedomWorks’s outreach director Deneen Borelli, whose husband Tom is white. Or, because anecdotal evidence is only worth so much, he could have “taken the Internet express” to and noticed that 85 percent of whites and 70 percent of elderly people are fine with interracial marriage. He could have shelled out for some current political science research, which suggests that “there is no difference between the racial attitudes of the general white population and self-identified tea party members.”

And in Mother Jones, Matt Connolly offered a countdown of Cohen’s worst moments, all of which are tied for the No. 1 spot.

There have been many calls for Cohen to lose his job, plus a popular hashtag, #firerichardcohen. And more than 8,000 people have signed an online petition asking for his head.

On Monday night, Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth tweeted that she thought the column was “Brilliant.” Some reactions to that assessment:

Much of the Cohen criticism took place on Twitter. Some notable reactions:

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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