Ethics Dunce: Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

Richard Cohen, a fair and smart liberal columnist who sometimes jumps the ethics rails...like now.

Richard Cohen, a fair and smart liberal columnist who sometimes jumps the ethics rails…like now.

Richard Cohen, the veteran liberal columnist at the Washington Post, is not your usual knee-jerk partisan pundit. He’s that rarity, a thoughtful and fair opinion journalist who does not choose his positions according to which side he would rather have drinks with. He really, really doesn’t like Republicans and conservatives, but he is capable of siding with them, or at least against his philosophical brethren, when common sense and matters of basic right and wrong beckon. I used to think of him as a left-biased partisan, but then I had a chance to read E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson on a regular basis, and Cohen’s relative objectivity and fairness became obvious.

He does have blind spots, however. One is sexual harassment, which, as an older guy who likes flirting with young women at the gym and doesn’t understand that whole “unwelcome advances” thing, he just doesn’t comprehend. Another is the compliance delusion. To be seriously unethical in Cohen’s eyes, you have to break the law. Otherwise, it’s “everybody does it.” Cohen is prone to fall for other classic rationalizations as well.  He is a “gut instinct”analyst where ethics are concerned, and gut instincts aren’t enough. They will eventually lead you astray. They lead Cohen astray.

This was the glaring flaw in his recent column about the Benghazi controversy, where Cohen fell into line with the Obama protectors in the media whose argument is, “So they lied…who cares?” He wrote in part…

“…President Obama was then really Candidate Obama and he surely did not want the words “terrorist attack” uttered during the presidential campaign. In addition, the CIA and the State Department were in a cat fight and could not agree on the wording of the talking points — or even, from a fair reading of their clashing e-mails, who the fanatical enemy was: al-Qaeda or members of Congress? In all this, it’s almost possible to forget that four Americans died in Benghazi. The event was a tragedy and it hardly matters, as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vociferously maintained, if the attack occurred spontaneously or was planned. Either way, it was a success for the terrorists and a debacle for the United States.

“It is good to find out how this happened — who’s responsible for the inadequate security, etc. — and it is also good to hold the Obama administration accountable for putting out a misleading statement. But the record will show that a thorough report was, in fact, compiled. Its authors were Thomas Pickering, an esteemed retired diplomat, and Adm. Mike Mullen, an equally esteemed retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They found the standard mistakes and snafus — but no crime….Watergate, though, was a crime. Iran-contra was a crime. Government officials were convicted and some of them went to jail. Fudging a press release is not a crime. Compromising on wording is not a crime…It is not a crime either to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this particular one is constructed of a fetid combination of bad taste and poisonous politics. Dig down a bit and it becomes clear that some — many? — Republicans suspect that Barack Obama and-or Hillary Clinton are capable of letting people die to cover up a terrorist attack. Either that, or this is what they want us to think.”

It’s a fascinating passage, because you can see Cohen slowly going off the ethical rails:

  • “the CIA and the State Department were in a cat fight and could not agree on the wording of the talking points — or even, from a fair reading of their clashing e-mails, who the fanatical enemy was: al-Qaeda or members of Congress” Cohen seems to think this is a joke. It’s not funny.  That’s exactly how the e-mail exchange reads, and it is a horrifying example of campaign politics poisoning competent governance. I don’t care if this is common…it’s harmful and wrong, and shouldn’t be shrugged off as business as usual. It also shows the stunning dishonesty of Obama’s own attempt to dismiss criticism of this sequence of events as “politically motivated.” An Administration that has a duty to the public to tell it the truth and a duty to the world to try to avoid bloodshed sends out a phony story for political reasons, and then plays the politics card when it’s caught? You can’t get much more cynical or manipulative than that“most transparent administration ever!”but Cohen doesn’t seem to mind.
  • “…and it is also good to hold the Obama administration accountable for putting out a misleading statement. But the record will show that a thorough report was, in fact, compiled. Its authors were Thomas Pickering, an esteemed retired diplomat, and Adm. Mike Mullen, an equally esteemed retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They found the standard mistakes and snafu…”  I think Cohen is honest, so I have to believe he is passing along this current Democratic whopper because he likes to think nice liberal Democrats like Sen. Reed don’t lie through their teeth. The report by Pickering and Mullen didn’t address the misleading statements by Clinton, Obama and Rice that continued all the way to the U.N. podium. Reed made the same misleading claim to ABC’s Martha Raddatz, and she knocked it down. I don’t think Cohen has actually read Pickering’s report.It simply does not deal with the effort to represent the attack as the result of a YouTube video, or the e-mails that have since come to light. The report is irrelevant to the matter of the Administration hiding the truth for political gain. In no way does it “hold the Obama administration accountable for putting out a misleading statement,’ and by the way, Richard, it isn’t “a” misleading statement, but many misleading statements in forums as diverse as the U.N and “The View.” Apology accepted.
  • “…Watergate, though, was a crime. Iran-contra was a crime. Government officials were convicted and some of them went to jail. Fudging a press release is not a crime. Compromising on wording is not a crime.” See? Now Cohen has jumped the track: he’s spinning and throwing out blatant euphemisms. The press release wasn’t “fudged,” it was altered to say what wasn’t true. Susan Rice’s Sunday of Lies wasn’t “a press release,” it was the US  Ambassador to the United Nations using the authority of her office to widely disseminate a cover story that she either knew or should have known wasn’t true. Compromising on wording is one thing…substituting a false explanation for what happened for the real one is something else. As for lying, Cohen is one of those people who thinks that as long as you aren’t under oath, your lie isn’t that damaging. ( He was a vocal “no big deal..it’s only sex” Clinton defender, as the Monica mess created the perfect opportunity for his sexual harassment and rationalizations blind spots to lead him astray) . LBJ’s non-illegal lies about Vietnam got young men killed for nothing. Bill Clinton’s lies about Monica wasted millions of dollars and distorted the course of the government. John Edwards’ lies about his sordid personal life might have saddled the Democrats  with a national ticket that wrecked the party and handed the Presidency to John McCain. The Benghazi lies undercut the new leader of Libya, and made effective diplomacy in the region more difficult…and lying to the American people always matters, a lot.  Among other things, it tells us how trustworthy our leaders are, and how much they respect us.

Lying is unethical, and it doesn’t have to be illegal to be terribly damaging. Lying orchestrated by the leader of a nation and his closest aides should never be dismissed as trivial because it isn’t illegal. Richard Cohen should understand that, and why he doesn’t, but instead joins the ranks of those trying to minimize the lie, is both perplexing and disappointing.

UPDATE: Washington Post Fact-Checker Glenn Kessler, who often seems to bend over backward to minimize the seriousness of Democratic deceptions, has declared President Obama’s statement yesterday that he called the Benghazi attack an “act of terrorism” an outright lie, using his maximum scale for intentional untruths. So the lying continues. And it does matter.

__________________________

Source: Washington Post

20 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

  1. ” And it does matter.”
    **********
    Yes, it matters, it matters a lot.
    The problem is, half of the country isn’t smart enough, or open minded enough, to see through the “conservative witch hunt” smokescreen.
    They believe whatever Obama and Hilary tell them.

    • I think it’s a little more pernicious than that, actually. Too many people are using “the ends justify the means,” which goes: “Obama’s a good guy and a liberal and not a conservative. He got re-elected. Great! That God awful Republican guy didn’t. So somebody told a white lie. Obama’s a good guy. So it’s okay. It’s only bad when bad guys lie. Let’s move on.”

      Unfortunately, I think this is how most of the media looks at is as well. It’s not stupidity, it’s dishonesty.

      • Exactly right. It disgusts me when I walk past the desks of black co-workers who have Obama’s picture up next to one of MLK and I hear them muttering how the racists are going after their guy because he’s black. The fact that he might not be up to the job never even crosses their mind, it’s an automatic “skin win.”

  2. “…President Obama was then really Candidate Obama and he surely did not want the words “terrorist attack” uttered during the presidential campaign.”

    If that’s the case, who was President at that time? Is Cohen really saying that makes it excusable?

    • I have yet to see Obama stop campaigning. As supportive as I may try to be of any leader of mine, the man has done nothing but campaign since I first ever heard of him. Just the tone of his speeches (all of them) boils down to self-promotion. He is the most self-referential politician I have ever heard, and you have to feel that you can’t trust someone whose most important priority seems to be his own image.

  3. “In all of this it is almost possible to forget that four Americans died in Benghazi.”

    So Cohen wants to jump on board the Hillary Clinton righteous indignation train? I haven’t forgotten that four Americans died in Benghazi but what left me even more disgusted were the lies I saw Susan Rice telling pertaining to the knowledge the administration had of the situation as if these deaths were some type of inconvenience which has to be “dealt with”. I wondered at the time how Susan Rice got this job. Was there a meeting in which everyone got to draw straws and she got the the short straw. Did she offer up her services in order to take one for the team in hopes of being rewarded down the line?

    I waited quite a while to hear Hillary Clinton’s take on the situation:
    “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”

    So…according to Clinton there was SOME POINT in time that the reason we had four dead Americans DID make a difference.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought while I was watching Susan Rice lie.

    • “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”
      -Susan Rice, National Security Council, at an agency meeting urging that the Rwandan genocide not be described as such. She was later appointed Ambassador to the United Nations.
      April 1994

      That was nearly 20 years ago. Susan Rice was like this TWENTY YEARS AGO, treating innocent people dying as a political inconvenience that needs to be covered up, and not even being shy about it. And somehow she has had an upwardadly-mobile career in public service all this time.

  4. “In all of this it is almost possible to forget that four Americans died in Benghazi.”

    That’s the worst tactic they are using. I think the people who are upset about the talking points are upset BECAUSE four people died. Nevertheless, the Obama/Clinton defenders/enablers push these four corpses front and center in an attempt to divert attention from all the apparent self-serving duplicity? That’s really twisted, and cynical, and sinister. But very Clintonian. This from a woman who got her start on the government payroll as a staff attorney for the Watergate hearings commitee.

    • “I think the people who are upset about the talking points are upset BECAUSE four people died.”

      This is definitely true in my case. As I heard the lies Susan Rice was telling, I couldn’t help but think that four Americans sacrificed their lives and now they were being betrayed by their own country. And for what? Because an election was coming up? This may not be the answer but the administration is not doing anything to persuade me otherwise and never has since day one.

      • I looked up the word to sacrifice in the dictionary ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacrifice ) and with that in mind my understanding now is that those four Americans did not themselves sacrifice their life; they just did their work. They were sacrificed by their government (= their employer) by opening up an embassy that was not sufficient secured. And that is also the betrayal of these four Americans by their government.
        The lying is not only about the fact that it was a terrorist attack but behind that the fact that — through the CIA — the US government already knew of the high risk of terrorism in the area.

        • As my foreign service friends keep telling me, this was no embassy, but an outpost, or something considerably less formal and permanent. Just to keep our terms straight…

            • That pathetic excuse is, of course, pure semantics. The building complex in Benghazi was leased by the State Department with the obvious intent of it being a permanent consulate, as Benghazi is a secondary capital city of Libya. It could have been a ramshackle camel barn, though. What matters is that Americans were there, doing legitimate business on behalf of their country, and were attacked by terrorists with four deaths resulting. It’s their status- not the building’s- that is the crux of the matter.

  5. Im sorry I can’t take Cohen seriously when all I can see when I look at him is Alfred E. Neuman with white hair and a beard.

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