‘Washington Post’ Columnist Richard Cohen’s Greatest Racist, Sexist Hits


This is Richard Cohen. He is, among other things, a columnist at one of the most prestigious daily newspapers in the country, a four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and as he has made painfully obvious, a white, straight, very privileged dude with some highly questionable views on significant portions of the American population. You might know him from today’s Internet, which is currently taking him to task for claiming voters “with conventional views” have to “repress a gag reflex” when considering the marriage of white mayor-elect Bill de Blasio (spoiler alert: his wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American and once publicly identified as a lesbian; their children, Dante and Chiara, are biracial). Luckily for those of us who enjoy a rage ulcer with our morning coffee, this isn’t the first time Cohen’s stepped in it! Behold, a tour of some opinions the good people at the Washington Post deemed fit for publication, all helpfully routed through Do Not Link.

When Trayvon Martin Was “Understandably” Murdered

Cohen was very, very sorry an unarmed 17-year-old ended up dead, of course. But — and yes, the second sentence of Cohen’s missive on George Zimmermann’s acquittal begins with a big ol’ “but”—he “can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious” of a 17-year-old kid walking home from a convenience store. After all, “the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime,” so who can blame said public when said young black males end up dead? That’s when Cohen segues into a defense of New York’s stop-and-frisk policy, killing two racist birds with one stone: “It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.”

When He Asked All Those Ladies to Just Lay Off Clarence Thomas Already

In which Cohen claimed to be embarrassed by something else published in the Post, a sentiment to which I’m sure plenty of his colleagues can relate. Lillian McEwen, who in 2010 joined the ranks of women providing a less-than-flattering portrait of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, apparently wasn’t accusing him of predatory misogyny, but simply “being a man.” This made her no better than Thomas’ original accuser Anita Hill, who “lacked a certain sophistication or judgement” when she subjected herself to national scrutiny by publicly testifying against her former boss. Besides, it’s not like sexually harassing his employees should affect our opinions of Thomas: “I was young and boorish once myself and have turned out to be a veritable saint,” and thus it’s incumbent on all of us to let bygones be bygones. If you say so, Richard.

When He Thanked Switzerland for Freeing a Child Rapist

It’s not that Roman Polanski didn’t have sex with a 13-year-old girl — he totally did! He just committed the rape over 30 years ago, so who even cares anymore? Thus is the argument of this gem of a column, which refers to Samantha Geimer as a “victim” (quotation marks very much Cohen’s) and compares Polanski’s plight to that of Ezra Pound. Cohen halfheartedly takes a few swipes at some Polanski apologist straw men who supposedly excuse Polanski on the grounds of his artistic genius. But after taking that brave stand, Cohen admits that he, too, would have bolted the country rather than face the “judicial misconduct” of an unfairly long prison sentence… for child rape. And that’s why Switzerland’s refusal to extradite Polanski was A-OK.

When He Was More Critical of Miley Cyrus Than the Steubenville Rapists

Good news, everyone: Cohen’s just as efficient with misogyny as he is with racism! Way before Sinead O’Connor ever hopped on the slut-shaming bandwagon, Cohen swooped in to call Cyrus a “cheap act,” a “tasteless twit,” and a danger to the “women’s movement.” While feminists appreciated the concern, Cohen somewhat undermined his claims to allyship with his diatribe on the “so-called” Steubenville rape, which for some reason he chose to introduce and conclude with his thoughts on Cyrus. His contribution to the Steubenville outrage? Even though the victim (no quotation marks here!) was “dehumanized” and “sexually mistreated,” she wasn’t gang raped. Perhaps Cohen would have been better off asking himself why he felt compelled to equivocate on the frontrunners for World’s Worst Human Beings’ behalf.

When He Was “Scolded” for “Crude Talk” With a Female Employee

No wonder he’s on Team Thomas! Way back when in 1998, Cohen supposedly asked editorial aide Devon Spurgeon to “stand up and turn around,” told her she “looked good in black,” and engaged her in a supposedly Lewinsky-related discussion of oral sex. Although Cohen claimed the incidents “had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today” (emphasis mine), the situation escalated enough for higher-ups to interview Cohen in the presence of his lawyer. The result? Cohen got moved up ten floors within his New York office building and went on to write the rock-solid pieces listed here, while Spurgeon was found to be the victim of a “hostile work environment,” not sexual harassment.

When He Said It Was Okay for Stores to Ban Black Customers

In 1986, when Cohen was still “young and boorish.” For the inaugural issue of the Washington Post‘s Sunday magazine, Cohen penned a defense of local jewelry store owners who’d taken to simply not allowing young black men into their shops. Cohen, unsurprisingly, saw the move not as blatant discrimination but a completely justified preventative measure against theft. DC’s black community, unsurprisingly, disagreed. Eventually, Post editor Ben Bradlee issued a formal apology, although he declined to fire his erstwhile writer, setting a precedent for the next 27 years.