Jeb's poor jettisoned racist: Bush’s lame tech guru gets some new defenders

Some journalists argue that Ethan Czahor paid too steep a price for his online racism and sexism. Huh?

Published February 12, 2015 4:33PM (EST)

  (AP/Lm Otero)
(AP/Lm Otero)

There’s been a mini-backlash against the outrage at the unfortunate chief technology officer of Jeb Bush's new PAC, Ethan Czahor, who lost his post after offensive tweets and blog posts were uncovered earlier this week. I first noticed the rumbling on Twitter – by men, even liberals, lamenting that youthful online mutterings, some of which went back to Czahor’s senior year in college in 2009, could be grounds for his dismissal.

Several expressed relief that Twitter didn’t exist when they were in college, and hey, we can probably all agree on that – although I’m pretty sure my dumb college-age ramblings didn’t include calling women “sluts," telling "black get their sh@# together," or suggesting that many African Americans spoke “gibberish.”

But the backlash manifested itself Wednesday in two pieces by journalists I respect, defending Czahor from his critics, and their logic deserves to be examined more closely, because it’s troubling.

Independent, libertarian-minded Bloomberg columnist Dave Weigel examines Czahor’s blog output and insists he’s merely “guilty of being a young conservative” – which Weigel says he was himself back in the day. The Bloomberg writer thinks the Republican’s writings are similar to what conservatives his age might have written for a college newspaper, but maybe with some beneficial restraint by an editor.

I think all right-minded people can agree that being “guilty of being a young conservative” shouldn’t disqualify anyone from a job, especially working for a conservative politician. But does Weigel really mean to tell us that all young conservatives refer to women as “sluts” and slur African Americans in a variety of troubling ways? He insists other conservatives would find Czahor’s rhetoric “utterly harmless sounding.” I hope he’s just being contrarian there.

It’s not a problem for me that a young Republican opposes affirmative action, as Czahor did, or insists that liberal anti-discrimination in banking laws led to the 2008 banking crash, as those are the positions of his party. It’s a little creepy that he does so with language that insults African-Americans, a term, by the way, he rails against. (Weigel doesn’t weigh in on his use of the word “sluts.”)

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote a somewhat more disturbing defense of Czahor, which amounts to a defense of himself for having seen the young conservative’s offensive Tweets, and not thinking they were newsworthy. He thought to himself: “this is a staff hire for a PAC who said gross, bro-y things four years ago. So I skipped it."

Now, Bump is thoughtful enough to admit that his reaction to the Tweets “as bro-y was likely very different from how a woman would view them.” But then he goes on to criticize the firestorm of media attention that cost Czahor his new job. “Czahor says he has changed. In the six years since college, it seems hard to believe he hasn't. But there were those tweets, and there were those blog posts.”

Bump attributes the interest in Czahor’s offensive online musings to a lull in genuine 2016 campaign news, but timing aside, he questions whether such a story should ever rise to the level of national news, let alone cost a new hire his job:

It's justifiable that we expect our political candidates to have never said gross, inappropriate or borderline-racist things, though we do give them a pass on some things that happened in their youth. It's a bit weird that we expect as thorough a vetting of every top-level hire; it's impossible that we should expect it of everyone even casually linked to the candidate.

It’s important to note that Czahor wasn’t “casually” hired to answer phones; the founder of was chosen as the “chief technology officer” for Bush’s new PAC. Presumably he was hired for his tech-savvy, which ought to include some savvy about social media. Plus, at a time when Bush is under scrutiny over whether the 13 years since his last election have left him rusty, what does it say that he or his staffers chose a guy with such questionable credentials? The Bush team's initial reply condemned the Tweets but defended Czahor: "Ethan is a great talent in the tech world and we are very excited to have him on board the Right to Rise PAC.” When more offensive writing came out, Czahor resigned his post.

Finally, let’s acknowledge that this didn’t happen in a vacuum. As Weigel observes, it follows several high-profile conservative staff racial screw-ups: Rep. Aaron Schock’s communications director had to resign over Facebook posts comparing African Americans to escaped zoo animals, and an aide to Rep. Steve Finscher left her job after boorishly lecturing young Malia and Sasha Obama and attacking their parents’ parenting skills.

Other 2016 Republican contenders have had similar staff meltdowns: Sen. Rand Paul’s former staffer and co-writer Jack Hunter had a long history of neo-Confederate writings, including declaring solidarity with Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. In 2013, Gov. Scott Walker had to fire two different aides in four months for ugly social media posts about wanting to choke an “illegal” Mexican and comparing undocumented immigrants to “Satan.” That doesn’t even count the Walker staffers who laughed at jokes comparing welfare recipients to dogs, or chuckled about enduring a “nightmare” about turning into a black, disabled Jewish homosexual, but finding solace in the fact that they didn’t become a Democrat.

I think it’s great that top GOP leaders today avoid such offensive language. But what does it mean that so many of their staffers get caught using it? I happen to think that’s a national news story, whether or not the 2016 race is in full gear.

By Joan Walsh