Richard Cohen

New York

 Richard Cohen wrote a weekly political column for The Washington Post until September 2019. Cohen joined The Post in 1968 as a reporter and covered night police, city hall, education, state government and national politics. As the paper’s chief Maryland correspondent, he was one of two reporters who broke the story of the investigation of former Vice President Agnew. In 1976, he began writing a column that ran on the front of the Metro section. His columns have appeared on the op-ed page of The Post since 1984. He is the author, with Jules Witcover, of “A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Spiro T. Agnew ” (1974). He has received the Sigma Delta Chi and Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Awards for his investigative reporting. 
Honors & Awards:
  • Sigma Delta Chi Award
  • Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Awards
Recent Articles

RICHARD COHEN COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

By RICHARD COHEN

EDITORS: Richard Cohen is retiring after four decades in syndication and 51 years at The Washington Post. This is his final column. Note quoted language in last sentence of 8th graf. Until Friday, Oct. 4, you are welcome to run columns by another writer in place of this column. To use a substitute column, first go to syndication.washingtonpost.com, where you can browse our full offerings by clicking on the Syndicate tab. Open a column you'd like to use and click on the "Copy as Vacation Sub" button to grab the full text. Should you have questions, contact us at syndication@washpost.com or 800-879-9794, ext. 1.

I've been lucky.

In February 1968, I came down to Washington from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to do some research, stopped up at The Washington Post and walked out with a job. A week later, for reasons I never understood, I got a raise. After graduating in June, I started work, and now, 51 years later, I am about to stop. This is my final column. I think I've earned that raise.

In 1976, eight years after I started, I was offered a local column. Ben Bradlee, the executive editor, made the offer at a lunch I had requested so I could tell him I was quitting. A rival news organization had offered to make me its White House correspondent. But before I could resign, Bradlee upset my plans. I never got around to quitting and never told Bradlee that I had intended to.

I was lucky.

Bradlee asked me to show him five sample columns. Instead, knowing I need the juice of a deadline, I wrote one the next day and gave it to the city editor. "I'm the new local columnist," I brazenly told him. "Check with Bradlee." He never did.

The next day, my column was in the paper.

I was lucky.

Back then I wrote three columns a week -- an exhausting but exhilarating schedule. Little by little, I broadened my scope until, in Bradlee's telling, he picked up the paper one day and discovered that I was in Beirut. By fiat, he moved me from the Metro page to the A section and, later, at the insistence of the publisher, to the op-ed page. I wrote what I wanted from where I wanted, and not once did the publishers ever tell me what to write or what not to write. On occasion, though, Katharine Graham offered some constructive criticism. Once, at a formal lunch for the new Russian ambassador, she strode purposely across the dining room to tell me that my column that morning "was a real piece of shit."

"Don't hold back, Katharine," I responded. "Tell me what you really think."

She laughed.

There were no better bosses then the Grahams -- and, more recently, Jeff Bezos. I roamed the world on their dime. Flying into Cairo for the first time, I looked out the window. A sandstorm obscured the pyramids, but I envisioned them anyway and I could not get over the fact that I was being paid to see them. What fools the Grahams were. I would have done it for nothing.

Back in 2017, I helped produce a documentary for HBO on the life of Ben Bradlee. HBO called it "The Newspaperman," and I thought, how wonderful, how apt. That was Bradlee and, with the same permission he gave me to write a column, I take that appellation for myself as well. It is, I think, the highest of callings, and I never wanted to be anything else. You go to work and someone pins an imaginary badge on you and deputizes you to go forth and discover life, ask questions, turn over rocks and, in the case of a column, think so hard it's physically draining.

I had grown up reading the once-liberal New York Post. It was a brave, scrappy paper with great, iconoclastic writers, particularly its columnists. I gorged on Murray Kempton, Jimmy Cannon and Pete Hamill. I read them all, envied them all and wanted to be like them. Later, I became a copyboy for The New York Herald Tribune and noticed that reporters were required to read the paper. They got paid for it. Amazing. Professional ballplayers must feel the same way. Imagine getting paid to play a game!

That first day at the Post, I was assigned a desk next to Carl Bernstein. We became fast friends and so, like a barnacle on a ship, I attached myself to him and Bob Woodward, going through Watergate with them. Earlier, I watched in awe and pride as the Post risked all sorts of legal and financial penalties to publish the Pentagon Papers after The New York Times had been enjoined from doing so. This was one great newspaper that I had just walked into. Again, what luck!

Now it is over. I have written books and screenplays and will continue to do so. My girlfriend and I are going to Paris for a month and we're getting a dog. I will have time to walk it now. I will miss newspapering, but I know I had the best it ever had to offer.

I was very lucky indeed.

Richard Cohen's email address is cohenr@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

RICHARD COHEN COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

WRITETHRU: 2nd graf, deleting 4th sentence: "Never mind that Democrats had done exceedingly well in last year's midterms."

By RICHARD COHEN

The best thing the Democratic Party has going for it right now is President Trump. Were he not running for reelection, I might vote for a Republican. It would be only the second time in my life -- I once voted for John Lindsay as mayor of New York -- but that sort of thing would be next to impossible now since liberal Republicans like him exist only in history books and PBS documentaries. I am stuck with the Democratic Party -- marooned is more like it.

I am stuck with a party that would replace the segregation of the past with the segregation of the present. The latest version is called "diversity," which insists that you are ineffably and permanently little more than your identity at birth -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian or whatever. The white executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently stepped down amid the uproar that the group is not sufficiently diverse. Identity apparently matters more than performance -- and Allison Jaslow is out. Apparently for being white. Not a single Democratic presidential candidate objected.

In New York City, the school system is considering a proposal to do away with its programs for gifted and talented kids. Both the mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, have never hid their antipathy toward such programs and, in particular, the admissions process for the city's elite high schools, Stuyvesant being the most famous. The indictment is entirely statistical: The elite schools disproportionately lack black and Hispanic students. Sixty-seven percent of the city's public school students are black or Hispanic, yet they only make up 10% of elite high school enrollment. At Stuyvesant, Asians predominate.

These numbers are unfortunate, but they are not the product of some racist school-system policy. The admittance tests are open to everyone. They are racially and ethnically blind. The enrollment outcomes are partly the result of income stratification among the ethnic and racial groups and the cultural consequences of that. But the secret to the success of those who do get in, including many first-generation Asian immigrants born and raised in poverty, is simple: study. Tell them about "privilege."

In his important new book, "The Assault on American Excellence," the former dean of Yale's law school, Anthony Kronman, uses the phrase "a reverence for human excellence." This was once the entirely noncontroversial ethic of American education. It powered New York's public schools and colleges and was the assumption by which generations of immigrants propelled themselves out of poverty. City College of New York, admission by excellence only, has produced 10 Nobel laureates, three in medicine. The world has benefited.

No doubt American society needs a course correction for the inequities of the past and, in some cases, the present. Non-monetary amends should be made for slavery and for the evils of racism. But it is wrong to think the injustice of racism and all the other "isms" can be righted with the injustice of identity politics. We have enough victims already.

My ideal political party would adhere to the principle of fairness. My political party would reject identity politics. My political party would extoll excellence. My political party would embrace the uniqueness of every individual and not consider him or her (or any other pronoun) a member of a group first, an individual second and use the excuse of past prejudices to create a racial or ethnic patronage system. We had that once in many big cities, an appeal to tribalism, and the idea of a racially or religiously balanced ticket -- a white and a black, an Italian and a Jew -- need not be revived. Leave it dead.

In a stunning article in the current Atlantic magazine, George Packer details the difficulty of choosing to send his two children to public schools in New York -- a Kafkaesque admissions gantlet of identity politics, incomprehensible classroom jargon, and political correctness taught at the expense of what used to be called civics. "It took me a long time to see that the new progressivism ... was actually hostile to principles without which I don't believe democracy can survive," he wrote. It has taken me just as long to come to the same conclusion. All I need is a political party that agrees.

Richard Cohen's email address is cohenr@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

RICHARD COHEN COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

By RICHARD COHEN

EDITOR'S NOTE: Note language in 10th graf.

I'm beginning to think the American Revolution was a mistake. Much would have been different, some things for the better and some for the worse, but at this moment, we'd have politicians willing to resign over matters of principle. Donald Trump would learn the meaning of pride.

As it is, the president has abased his office and the people who serve him. They grovel, they agree, they applaud, they make all sorts of excuses for their service -- (BEG ITAL)look, he's lowered taxes and is building that wall(END ITAL) -- but they do not have the fundamental backbone or integrity to simply quit. They serve a fool and they know it.

The willingness to say enough is enough turns out to be a distinctively British thing, like driving on the left or beginning a dinner party with a toast to the queen. In recent days, a good number of British politicians have simply said they've had it with the quirky and autocratic Boris Johnson, the current prime minister, and his quirky and autocratic ways. They have upped and quit, with one of the quitters being Johnson's own brother, Jo, a member of Parliament and minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation. It turns out one of his innovations is the well-timed resignation.

Jo Johnson followed other members of Parliament, some of whom resigned from Boris Johnson's Conservative Party, others of whom were kicked out by Johnson himself. One of latter was Winston Churchill's grandson, Nicholas Soames, whom Johnson removed for opposing a no-deal Brexit. Boris Johnson wrote a biography of Churchill and likens himself to the great wartime prime minister. Apparently, Churchill's grandson begs to differ. The man was violating well-established norms of political behavior, such as asking Queen Elizabeth to suspend Parliament for five weeks and purging his party of rebels who, as fairness demands, had only done what Johnson himself had done in the past as an MP.

When I asked a well-placed English friend of mine to describe the essence of the charges against Johnson, he ran down the list of Johnson's tradition-busting actions and pronounced, "This is not British." It was a succinct and grave indictment, a severe accusation and, embedded within it, an adamant refusal to accept Johnson's way as the New Normal. The Normal Normal will do just fine.

Where oh where are Republicans with a similar revulsion regarding Trump? In Congress, they whisper their dissent and then flock to CNN to praise Trump and his weird ways. In the Cabinet, those who have resigned have essentially been pushed out, and even then they insist their differences were limited to policy.

OK, policy's important. Tariffs are important, the wall is important, climate change is important, voter suppression is important and even the independence of what used to be called the weather bureau is important. But tone, manners and the dignity of the presidency are also important -- maybe the most important of all.

The president is a liar. The president traffics in racism. The president bullies, threatens, insults his political foes and encourages a heel-clicking kind of chauvinism. The president pads his own pocket, intimidates witnesses and rewards the obstinacy of others. He mocks the First Amendment while extolling the Second. He traduces worthy alliances and even slimes the memory of John McCain, whose bravery and honor Trump cannot even begin to fathom.

Isn't all of this un-American? If so, where are the Republicans who, like their British cousins, have the pride and guts to say so? Why have they allowed incessant lying to become the New Normal? Shall I call the roll of Republicans who waxed indignant because Bill Clinton was seen in running shorts and boasted about a carpeted pickup? Where were they when Trump made Clinton seem like a stuffy headwaiter? Carpeted pickup? What about "grab them by the p---y"?

The American political system is significantly different from the British one, and those differences have to be taken into account. (For instance, some of the resigned MPs can soon stand for reelection.) But the perks of office -- cars, drivers, nifty phones and dreadnaught desks -- are the same on both sides of the pond. What's missing here is pride, a reverence for the Old Normal and a thrilling willingness to declare, (BEG ITAL)This inch and no further.(END ITAL)

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" the hapless Henry Higgins cries in "My Fair Lady." Silly question, my good man. Let me rephrase. "Why can't an American be more like a Brit?"

Richard Cohen's email address is cohenr@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
Richard Cohen wrote a weekly political column for The Washington Post until September 2019. Cohen joined The Post in 1968 as a reporter and covered night police, city hall, education, state government and national politics. As the paper’s chief Maryland correspondent, he was one of two reporters who broke the story of the investigation of former Vice President Agnew. In 1976, he began writing a column that ran on the front of the Metro section. His columns have appeared on the op-ed page of The Post since 1984. He is the author, with Jules Witcover, of “A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Spiro T. Agnew ” (1974). He has received the Sigma Delta Chi and Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Awards for his investigative reporting.
Awards
  • Sigma Delta Chi Award
  • Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Awards
Links