Yesterday was a bad day for Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who caused a firestorm over a column he wrote that touched on 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,” the column said.
Readers and other members of the media called for Cohen’s dismissal, not only for this column, but because they reflect an insensitive pattern in his work and give the sense that Cohen has no clue how the modern world looks or lives. Citing a Gallup poll showing that, in 2013, 87 percent of Americans approve of marriages between blacks and whites, Color of Change wrote in a statement:
“Since when did the editors of one of our nation’s premier newspapers become the arbiters of conventional, or traditional, American views?…
“If the editors of Mr. Cohen’s article–and Mr. Cohen himself–took a moment to think about the recent history of our nation, they could see that the American people actually are interested in learning more about our commonalities and connections — from Bill de Blasio’s family to the First Family–rather than worn out and racist ideas about our differences. In fact, an overwhelming majority of Americans approve of interracial marriages.”
Forced to respond, the paper’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt defended the column saying, “Anyone reading Richard’s entire column will see he is just saying that some Americans still have a hard time dealing with interracial marriage.”
But, Hiatt also took the blame for not better editing the piece. “I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted,” he told his own newspaper. Saying that Cohen is agnostic about political thought and unafraid of taking on tough subjects, Hiatt says Cohen isn’t going anywhere.
“Those traits make him a compelling, and one of our best-read, columnists. They also, not surprisingly, at times lead to controversy,” Hiatt added.
As for Cohen, he stands by the column and maintains that it’s not what he believes, but does accurately describe how some people think.
“You’ve got to read the whole column, and if you read the whole column you can’t honestly think that these are my views or that I endorse the views that I articulated in the column,” he told The Huffington Post. “I could have picked a better word, but it didn’t ring any bells with anybody, it didn’t ring any bells with me.”