Richard Cohen responds to critics over "gag" column

The Washington Post columnist says charges of racism are "truly hurtful" and "just not right"

By Elias Isquith

Published November 12, 2013 8:55PM (EST)

  (Sigrid Estrada/Washington Post)
(Sigrid Estrada/Washington Post)

Richard Cohen responded to critics of his "gag" column on Tuesday, telling the Huffington Post that those who would accuse him of racism are being "truly hurtful."

"It's not who I am. It's not who I ever was. It's just not fair. It's just not right," Cohen said.

Cohen inspired a maelstrom of criticism on Tuesday in response to a column in which he wrote, "[P]eople 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." Many argued that what Cohen called "conventional" would be better understood as really, really racist.

Continuing to defend himself, Cohen insisted, "I didn't write one line, I wrote a column. 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."

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

Cohen went on to say that while he "could have picked a better word," his choice "didn't ring any bells with anybody," and that the sentence in question couldn't be appreciated outside the context of the column as a whole. "[T]here is a context to the column. 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 I endorse the views that I articulated in the column."

More from the Huffington Post:

Cohen said that no editors objected to the phrasing the first time around. "Nobody, not a single one of my editors -- and believe me, they're super sensitive to this sort of stuff -- said, 'Wait a minute.' They all knew what I meant because of the context of the column. I was talking about tea party extremism. And it's clear."

He added, "Look, maybe the word was inappropriate or maybe I could have used a different word. But you're talking to somebody who has written, I don't know, 100 columns in favor of homosexual rights, many columns in favor of same sex marriage."

Cohen has been criticized for his comments on race in the past. When asked why he thought it was that he keeps getting caught up in racially charged arguments, he said that it's because people view him as a liberal and find some of his positions unconventional. "Every once in a while I take an unconventional stance as a liberal -- as someone who has always been called a liberal," he said. "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."

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Bill De Blasio New York City Mayor Race Racism Richard Cohen The Huffington Post The Washington Post