Poll: Who's the More Horrible Media Troll, Richard Cohen or Lori Gottlieb?
It's been quite a week for people writing what appear to be deliberately stupid editorials, but then, isn't it always? Earlier this week, the internet was in an uproar over Richard Cohen, Washington Post columnist and musty old bigot, who finds a new way to bum us out almost every Tuesday. As a reminder: the last time Cohen seriously upset people was with a column on Travyon Martin, suggesting that he did deserve to be profiled and maybe murdered a little, since he was, after all, young, black, and wearing a hoodie. And who could forget Cohen's delightful piece on Roman Polanski, who, after all, merely "had sex with a 13-year-old after plying her with booze" and obviously did not deserve any silly old rape charge?
But Tuesday's column was a last straw for a lot of folks. Amid a mumbling piece about how the Tea Party doesn't like Chris Christie, thus making him un-electable as president, Cohen busted out this nugget, about how the rightwing sees Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio:
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.
To a lot of people, it sounded like Cohen was the one with "conventional views," needing to supress his upchuck response every time he thinks about a white man with a black wife. Many pointed out that those views haven't been "conventional" for several decades, and thought gagging at someone's children was, you know, in poor taste.
Cohen has defended the column, telling 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." To suggest that he's racist, he added, is "truly hurtful. It's not who I am. It's not who I ever was. It's just not fair. It's just not right."
WaPo editorial page editor Fred Hiatt also took a little blame, telling The Wrap, "Anyone reading Richard's entire column will see he is just saying that some Americans still have a hard time dealing with interracial marriage. I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted." That didn't stop the flood of internet commentary calling for Cohen's head, as well as the incredible speed and popularity of the #FireRichardCohen hashtag on Twitter. As many people pointed out, it was far from Cohen's first time at the Offensive Olympics.
"Context cannot improve this," wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic. "'Context' is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear. And horse-shit is the context in which Richard Cohen has, for all these years, wallowed."
And yet, try as he might, Cohen's entry into the Idiotic Editorial Hall of Fame doesn't totally eclipse this week's earlier entrant, Lori Gottlieb, who wrote a less openly offensive but in some ways, much more trollish op-ed in the New York Times on November 11.
In her newest thought experiment, Gottlieb complained that because of Obamacare her individual PPO was being canceled and she faced a $5,400 annual increase, although she did add, sarcastically, that an Anthem Blue Cross rep told her "now if I have Stage 4 cancer or need a sex-change operation, I'd be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions." (Lori Gottlieb is immune to cancer and her son, who's also on her policy, will never suffer from gender identity issues, so clearly they won't be needing any of that.)
Gottlieb also complained that her new plan covered maternity benefits, which are of no use to her at the age of 46. A little further down, she also mentioned that she'd "altered" her own plan back in 2011, "dumping maternity benefits so that I didn't have to pay for everyone else's pregnancies." After all, after becoming a mother at 38, which presumably everyone else on her health plan helped pay for, Gottlieb had no reason to help pay for anyone else's pregnancies.
But what she seemed most steamed about was that when she griped about all of this on Facebook, she got nary a single "like." She wondered if Obamacare had made it "un-P.C. to be concerned by a serious burden on my family's well-being," adding, a little further down:
President Obama doesn't care much about the relatively small percentage of us with canceled coverage and no viable replacement. He keeps apologizing while maintaining that it's for the good of the country, a vast improvement "over all."
Because nothing will draw people to your side of the argument like kvetching about the greater good.
It was all so atrociusly petty, small-minded, and lacking in basic perspective that even the Wall Street Journal was horrified, with opinion editor James Taranto writing, " At first we were pleasantly surprised that the Times, whose editorial page has been unwavering in its pro-ObamaCare propagandizing, was giving space to an opposing point of view, but after reading the piece, we suspect it's a put-on."
Although Gottlieb does make the point that Obamacare makes her health coverage more expensive and doesn't allow her to keep a plan she likes -- complaints that have been pretty widely made, and are worth talking about on their own, as Taranto puts it, "the way she frames her complaints is so off-putting, you have to wonder if the Times intended the article's publication as a joke at ObamaCare critics' expense."
We suspect not.
So there we have it: Cohen, a man making such a vile, racist argument that most of the internet has been calling for his head, but framing it as a glimpse into the mind of the Tea Party, versus Gottlieb, making what might be a reasonable argument in such a vapid, petty, poor-people-hating, aggressively self-centered way that even the WSJ can't get on board. The real question: Who's trolling us harder? And should we take past work into account, i.e. Cohen's rape apology and racism-defending versus Gottlieb's undisguised horror at the idea that women might hang around all worthless and unmarried?
It's all very confusing for us. So instead we put it to you, our readers: Who's the bigger troll? Your votes below, please.
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.