What Richard Cohen said: Two weekends ago, we ascended the stage at Benny’s Bar and Grill in Potomac, Maryland. We were taking part in the establishment’s “Journalists in comedy” night.
We followed Clarence Page, the sanest person in journalism today. But why was he subjecting himself to the miseries which could ensue?
“We’re just here to find out why you’re here,” we told him when he arrived. “When we learn why you’re here, we’re leaving.”
Page couldn’t exactly explain his presence. And so we ascended the stage.
Eventually, we discussed the “Problems in philosophy” class we took in our freshman year in college. Masterfully, we offered our thoughts about one of the six “problems” we studied:
“How do you know that 7 plus 5 equals 12?”
“Who are these problems problems for?” we recalled ourselves masterfully wondering. But first, we shared a few observations about that day’s “Free for All” page in the Washington Post.
Each Saturday, the Post devotes a special page to letters from its readers. We sometimes imagine that they pick those letters which will portray us the readers at our nit-picking, overwrought worst.
Is “Free for All” really a portrait of readers as hecklers? We’ll let you decide:
That morning, a reader had scolded the Post for a politically-charged spelling choice. In a recent news report, the Post had referred to the “Dnepropetrovsk region” of Ukraine, he scoldingly said.
The reader said the Post should have used this spelling: “Dnipropetrovsk region.” And that wasn’t all! “Also, please don't begin using ‘Slavyansk’ for Sloviansk, ‘Makeyevka’ for Makiivka, ‘Gorlovka’ for Horlivka and so on,” he pre-emptively warned.
We weren’t even saying the reader was wrong. We were simply saying!
Today, the “Free for All” page spills with reader outrage. Why did the Post describe a graffiti vandal as a graffiti artist? What did a headline refer to Elizabeth II as the queen of England?
Why can’t Warren Brown’s car column have a regular space? One reader even offers a narrow complaint about a crossword puzzle:
Aleve is not an “Alternative to Tylenol,” as the 2 Down clue suggested. If one is allergic to aspirin, one cannot take Aleve.
For ourselves, we were struck by the letter shown below. A reader batters Richard Cohen for his sexist, misogynist comments about Candidate Clinton.
The letter appears at the top of the “Free for All” page. Here it is, headline included:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (4/25/15): Hillary Clinton is no victimWe recalled scanning Cohen’s column last week. We didn’t remember it as an insult to Clinton, let alone to all women.
Richard Cohen’s description of Hillary Clinton in his April 14 op-ed column, “A campaign where she is the message,” was sexist and misogynistic.
He implied that Clinton’s main problem is being “a woman of some years of womanly experiences.” This insulted all women, but especially those of us “of some years.” To stress his point, he added “a woman of some years who has led a hell of a life.” In case we misunderstood, Cohen commented, “She has been around.” (Did he not realize this may imply promiscuity?) To emphasize further, he wrote, “She has been walloped. She has been publicly betrayed and damaged and hurt.” Was he trying to evoke images of Hester Prynne? Anne Boleyn? Uppity women in general?
Cohen used highly charged language, language often used to disempower women in general. Like so many hackneyed crime dramas and old-fashioned fairy tales, he tried to portray Clinton as a victim, and not the strong, intelligent, goal-directed woman who is successful in her own right and resilient in the face of a flawed husband.
In the end, Clinton’s biggest problem may be the inability of men “of some years” like Cohen to overcome the old stereotypes of women—the very sexist cliches they grew up with.
B— A— F—
Incomparably, we reread the piece. In the end, this was Cohen’s assessment of Clinton and her Republican rivals:
COHEN (4/14/15): Hillary Clinton has been a lawyer. She has been an advocate for the poor, especially children. She’s been the first lady of Arkansas and of the United States of America. She’s been a senator from New York and Obama’s secretary of state. Her record in all those positions is worthy of a fair critique, but the fact remains that she’s unique in American political life.In our view, Cohen led his piece with the standard, silly criticism with which a gang of other pundits led their Post columns that week: Candidate Clinton hasn’t laid out an agenda!
Scanning the mob of Republicans now seeking the White House, there’s no one who approaches Clinton in experience or standing. Jeb Bush comes close. He was the governor of a major state and he impresses with his fidelity to some distinctly un-Republican positions on immigration and education. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is interesting, but he has the “lean and hungry look” that Caesar noted in Cassius. He is not quite ready. As for the rest of the field, it is a political bedlam, quarreling, quibbling and kvetching over same-sex marriage, abortion and immigration, and in general waging the good fight against social progress.
To us, that criticism is utterly silly at this early date. But everyone at the Washington Post recited that script that week.
Basically, Cohen proceeded from there to an endorsement of Clinton. But so what? In Arlington, one reader was outraged by the insulting, misogynist way in which he endorsed her for president.
Our guess? Such cluelessness from Clinton supporters may represent her “biggest problem.” As Cohen was writing his endorsement, the New York Times was fashioning the very large puddle of front-page piddle which we’ll review all next week.
This very morning, the Times has published four letters about its front-page report. Alas! Those hand-picked letters may well represent a great deal of the public reaction to that Rolling Stone-flavored report.
Does the reader in Arlington know what’s wrong with that front-page report? Because we’re so clueless about such matters, we the liberals have long been easy to roll.
We liberals! We do know that seven plus five equals twelve. Beyond that, a great deal seems to escape us, thanks in part to the corporate hustlers we accept as our tribal leaders.
That fill us with our narrow rage. As they do, the plutocrats who pay their fat wages just keep rolling along.
We haven't forgotten: Coming Monday, what Brooke Gladstone says she has heard