Richard Cohen says that his latest piece was not intended to be and shouldn't be read as racist.
"The word racist is truly hurtful," he told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "It's not who I am. It's not who I ever was. It's just not fair. It's just not right."
The Washington Post columnist came under fire on Tuesday for writing that "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." He insisted that he was expressing the views of some people within the Tea Party and not his own.
"I didn't write one line, I wrote a column," Cohen said. "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."
And those views are not held by the entire Tea Party. "I don't think everybody in the Tea Party is like that, because I know there are blacks in the Tea Party," he said. "So they're not all racist, unless I'm going to start doing mind reading about why those black people are there."
When asked if he believed that people who do “have a gag reflex” at the idea of interracial marriage are in fact racist, he said that he did. “I could have picked a better word, but it didn't ring any bells with anybody, it didn't ring any bells with me,” he continued. “But there 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.”
Fred Hiatt, editor of the Washington Post editorial page, said Tuesday that he should have edited Cohen's "conventional" line to prevent misunderstanding.
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."
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more