Washington Babylon — January 17, 2008, 12:58 pm

Richard Cohen: The decider

Here’s an old but interesting story that combines two things I’ve discussed before: press bias on the presidential trail and Richard Cohen’s lamentable hatchet job on Barack Obama.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen came to talk at Yale in 1988, just after I arrived. Following schmancy Yale tradition, he had tea with a small group of students and then ate dinner with an even smaller group. I weaseled my way into attending. Gary Hart had recently flamed out in the ’88 presidential race because of Donna Rice. And at dinner Cohen told all us fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty youths this:

The Washington press corps had specifically tried to push Hart out of the race. It wasn’t because Hart had had extramarital affairs—everyone knew this was the norm rather than the exception among politicians. So Hart wasn’t at all unusual in this respect. Instead, Cohen said, it was because the press corps felt that Hart was “weird” and “flaky” and shouldn’t be president. And when the Donna Rice stuff happened, they saw their opening and went after him.

And here’s Cohen in May of 1987 after Hart’s Donna Rice/Monkey Business scandal (admittedly one of the more delightful scandals of recent times) gave him his opening. “The imperative to belittle and ignore the human side of politics seriously flaws Gary Hart,” he wrote. “The presidency is special, not for every politician.”

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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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