Richard Cohen defends column about 'conventional people' and the de Blasios

The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen is under intense scrutiny for a controversial column in which he suggested “conventional people” have to repress the urge to “gag” when they see New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his multicultural family.

Cohen, in a column ostensibly about the Republicans who will likely compete for the 2016 presidential nomination in Iowa, wrote:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. 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. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

Amid calls for his dismissal, Cohen has attempted to clarify his original intent.

“I didn’t write one line, I wrote a column,” Cohen told the Huffington Post. “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.”

Meanwhile, Cohen’s editor Fred Hiatt says he would have rethought the “conventional” line if he knew it would have offended readers.

“I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted,” Hiatt told The Wrap.

As for the “gag reflex” line Cohen says, “I could have picked a better word, but it didn’t ring any bells with anybody, it didn’t ring any bells with me.”

“Every once in a while I take an unconventional stance as a liberal — as someone who has always been called a liberal,” he added. “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.”

Yet this is not the first time Cohen has angered critics with his racial views. When writing about the Trayvon Martin case earlier this year, Cohen argued that the unarmed team was “understandably” profiled because he is black.

Among those who have called him out from his column is the The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates who satrically responded to Cohen’s piece: “Right. I’m not racist. I just don’t recognize my country. Also, the sight of you, and your used-to-be-lesbian black wife, and your brown children make me sick to my stomach. It’s not like I want to lynch you or anything. ”