Duncan Black on the Washington Post's Richard Cohen:
Eschaton: Every Time I Try To Get Out...: Every Time I Try To Get Out... I really was going to try to avoid Polanski blogging, but then Richard Cohen referred to drugging and raping a 13 year old over clear objections as her being "seduced."
What is wrong with these people?
Warren St. John:
Washington Post Scolds Richard Cohen for Crude Talk With Female Aide: Ms. Spurgeon and Mr. Cohen clashed soon after his arrival in New York…. Mr. Cohen… upbraided her from time to time, making reference to his connections to Post higher-ups in Washington in a way that Ms. Spurgeon read as an implicit threat to her job security. Despite his displeasure with Ms. Spurgeon’s job performance, Mr. Cohen seems to have sought out her opinion on matters relevant to his column. After reading a Lewinsky-related article that referred to oral sex as “casual sex,” Mr. Cohen engaged Ms. Spurgeon in a discussion on the subject that other staff members found offensive. Staff members said that Mr. Cohen sometimes used foul language in the office and that he remarked on Ms. Spurgeon’s appearance, telling her she “looked good in black,” according to a Post staff member. On another occasion, the staff member said, Mr. Cohen asked Ms. Spurgeon to “stand up and turn around.”
Mr. Cohen has denied to friends that he made that last comment and said that the other comments on Ms. Spurgeon’s appearance were made innocently. Speaking to Off the Record, Mr. Cohen would only say, “It was a personality dispute at an office, but it had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today.”
Mr. Cohen’s defenders said discussions of oral sex are unavoidable in newsrooms these days because of the allegations swirling around President Clinton. And they add that while Mr. Cohen may cuss heartily, he does so only in the tradition of his trade. “Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows these are not sedate places,” said Mr. Auletta…. "That’s the way journalists talk.”
Tensions between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Spurgeon escalated in late March…. Mr. Cohen was interviewed about the matter in New York with a lawyer present, Ms. Spurgeon was flown to Washington and interviewed alone by Post attorneys and personnel officers…. Reasoning that Mr. Cohen was a columnist and needed to work in the office, management put Ms. Spurgeon on paid leave, sending her home for two weeks. The move outraged some employees, who felt it gave the impression that “she was the screwy one,” according to one Post reporter. The move also seemed to violate the paper’s own sexual harassment guidelines, which insure that no report of alleged harassment will “cause further embarrassment” to the complainant.
While Ms. Spurgeon awaited word of her fate, Post sources said, Mr. Cohen’s friends mounted a defense of their colleague, using a familiar tactic-they trashed the young reporter. Because she had cried on occasion in the office, Ms. Spurgeon was depicted as unstable by critics in calls to Post management. Ms. Spurgeon’s sympathizers said she was upset about her mother, who is stricken with cancer, and they called the comments a cheap shot. An item in The Washington Times reported that Mr. Cohen’s friend Sally Quinn was behind the campaign to discredit Ms. Spurgeon, a charge Ms. Quinn vehemently denied. “I never made a single phone call to people at the Post on behalf of Dick,” Ms. Quinn said. “I’ve stayed out of it because I don’t think my involvement would help anybody.”
Post management recently concluded that Ms. Spurgeon suffered a “hostile working environment” but not sexual harassment, and later changed the finding to conclude that Mr. Cohen had committed “inappropriate behavior.” Mr. Cohen was moved from the New York bureau’s 12th-floor office at 251 West 57th Street to Newsweek ‘s offices 10 floors higher….
Mr. Cohen feels he has been the victim of a witch-hunt atmosphere. “It’s not like he groped someone,” said Mr. Auletta. “He’s being accused of saying things that are insensitive. Well, grow up.… This is Dick Cohen being Dick Cohen, and politically correct people being wusses.”…
Ms. Spurgeon’s defenders-who point out that she didn’t initiate the complaint and say she has turned down the constant entreaties of attorneys hoping to take on her case-said she has been let down by a Post management cowed by legal concerns. By sending her on leave, they contend, management has sent a message that there will be a subtle form of punishment for those who make even legitimate complaints. Other observers said Ms. Spurgeon might have endured Mr. Cohen’s remarks, however boorish, had they not been accompanied by the implicitly threatening job criticisms.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?