Writing his farewell column, retiring Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (9/23/19) recalls:

Flying into Cairo for the first time, I looked out the window. A sandstorm obscured the pyramids, but I envisioned them anyway and could not get over the fact that I was being paid to see them.

That sums up Cohen’s career pretty well: It was his job to witness monumental matters; he didn’t actually see them, but wrote about them anyway—and got paid to do it.

The theme of Cohen’s final column was how lucky he’s been in his career. And it’s been lucky for us at FAIR, too, I guess—few in the media business have provided us with as much material over the years as he as.

Who can forget his history-defying declaration that “for most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant” (FAIR.org5/5/09)—followed four years later by his pining for a politician brave enough to “acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males” (FAIR.org, 7/16/13)? This is the same Richard Cohen who defended businesses refusing black customers on the grounds that “white assailants are rather hard to find in urban America” (Washington Post9/7/86)—and wrote that   “people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex” when they see that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has an interracial family (FAIR.org12/3/14).

Cohen (Washington Post10/25/10) maintained that sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas should be forgotten, writing, “We all did and said terrible things when we were young”—which seemed like a backhanded acknowledgement of the time he was moved out of the Post newsroom because of “inappropriate behavior” toward a female colleague (FAIR.org11/8/16).

It was Cohen who declared that “only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman” could doubt Colin Powell’s assurances that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction (Washington Post2/6/03). Undaunted by error, years later he had an ethnic insult handy to dismiss Iranian assurances that they were not trying to make a nuclear bomb: “These Persians lie like a rug,” he insisted (FAIR.org9/29/09).

There was a deep strain of cluelessness that ran through Cohen’s writing, a “Not The Onion” quality that was hard to imitate. Perhaps my favorite example (FAIR.org8/9/11) is when he related an anecdote about Franklin Roosevelt crying when he heard about migrant children’s lack of Christmas toys—proof that the patrician president “could connect to the less fortunate.” Cohen contrasted this with Obama’s reaction “when the stock market fell more than 500 points last week and the image that night was of the president whooping it up at his birthday party…. He does not seem to care.” But you could always count on Richard Cohen to stick up for the more fortunate.


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