I’m a Brilliant, Original, and Idiosyncratic Thinker But Don’t Ever Disagree With Me

Richard Cohen

Much like Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, I write for a living. Primarily about U.S. politics and public policy. I write about these things because I think they’re important. And, obviously, the essence of the matter is that people have strong feelings about these important issues and disagree in crucial ways. Thus, though my understanding and expectation is that my audience consists largely of people who agree with my basic political orientation, I hardly expect each and every reader to agree with each and every thing I say. I like to think that some of the time I persuade people to change their minds about issues on which we disagree, but I don’t flatter myself that I’m so enormously convincing that this will happen 100 percent of the time. Nor do I flatter myself to think that I’ll be right all the time. Because of all this, it doesn’t surprise me that my comment section and my inbox are often full of people disagreeing with me. It’s all in the game, and even though criticism is often annoying it’s also often helpful — it’s how I learn. And I would assume that if I were given a much more prominent platform for an important national newspaper, then the volume of criticism would get larger, which is at it should be. Cohen, though, doesn’t see it that way:

“I used to get a lot more on the right,” said columnist Richard Cohen, who broke with liberals when he supported the Iraq war. More recently, the left has picked apart columns that are perceived as being favorable to John McCain.

“If you’re a little bit critical of Barack Obama, you get really a pie of vilification right in the face,” Cohen said, adding that his liberal critics “were born too late, because they would have been great communists.”

It’s extraordinary how commonplace these kind of sentiments are among prominent media figures. Cohen clearly relishes his self-conception as an independent thinker. And presumably the whole reason he’s glad to be a Washington Post columnist in part because that gives him a large audience of people who care about politics. Given all that, of course people will sometimes disagree with him! But that’s now how he sees it, and certainly he sees no need to engage with his critics on the merits — instead, they’re just like Communists!

The whole mindset is bizarre but also bizarrely widespread. You’d think that people who write for a living about public affairs wouldn’t be so thin-skinned.