I end up defending the damnedest people on this blog.
Since 2012, I’ve put up three posts on what an unethical and obnoxious political cartoonist the Washington Posts’ Tom Toles is part of my ongoing campaign to retire the editorial cartoon completely, since as Toles proves routinely, it distorts facts under cover of being satire. His commentary on the Wuhan virus has been especially despicable.
But I digress: I come to defend Toles, not to bury him.
Incredibly, the Washington Post learned this week that a guest wore a costume including blackface at a Toles Halloween party in 2018, and launched an investigation into it. This momentous event—from two years ago—was deemed so important that the Post assigned two reporters to the hot breaking story. From the result yesterday,
“At the 2018 party at the home of The Washington Post’s editorial cartoonist, [a]middle-aged white woman named Sue Schafer wore a conservative business suit and a name tag that said, “Hello, My Name is Megyn Kelly.” Her face was almost entirely blackened with makeup. Kelly, then an NBC morning show host, had just that week caused a stir by defending the use of blackface by white people: “When I was a kid, that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
…Some of the approximately 100 guests at the home of the cartoonist in the District’s American University Park neighborhood said they didn’t notice the blackface. Some noticed it and said nothing. A few people walked up to Schafer, who was then 54, and challenged her about her costume… Nearly two years later, the incident, which has bothered some people ever since but which many guests remember only barely or not at all, has resurfaced in the nationwide reckoning over race after George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, was killed when a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Many protesters have called on white Americans to reassess their own actions or inactions when confronting violent and everyday racism alike.”
What one woman wore as a satirical Halloween costume as an obvious critical commentary, not of African-Americans but of super-white conservative Megyn Kelly’s on-air defense of wearing blackface has bothered “some people” for almost two years, the Post story says. Wow. That’s incipient mental illness. “I just can’t sleep—I keep thinking about the blackface a woman I don’t know wore at Tom Toles’ party in 2018!” Such an assertion needs to begin a story about unhealthy race-grievance obsessions and their consequences, not a two-year old Halloween party.
Inspired by the George Floyd Freakout, one of the guests at Toles’ party, a woman of Puerto Rican heritage, decided this was the perfect time to contact Toles and complain about the Megyn Kelly costume. Got that? Because a cop killed a black man in Minneapolis and triggered protests and riots all over the country resulting in millions of dollars of property damage and hundreds of injuries and deaths, Lexi Gruber thought the appropriate response for her was to call up the host of a 2018 party to complain about a guest’s makeup.
Last week Gruber emailed Toles, whom she had never met other than attending his party, and told him,
“In 2018, I attended a Halloween party at your home. I understand that you are not responsible for the behavior of your guests, but at the party, a woman was in Blackface. She harassed me and my friend — the only two women of color — and it was clear she made her ‘costume’ with racist intent.”
The e-mail went on to say that the incident had “weighed heavily on my heart — it was abhorrent and egregious.” She asked Toles to identify the woman.
This is where Toles’ progressive bias finally bit him. What he should have written in response was, “I’m sorry, but you should have dealt with that situation when it occurred. I am not responsible for what my guests do, nor am I responsible for helping other guests who decide two years later that they have a score to settle with one of them. Bye.” Instead, he responded by offering “apologies for your experience at the party. A lot of people show up who I don’t know, and I don’t recognize the woman you’re inquiring about.”
Ah, but as the Post’s crack investigative reporting team discovered—a team larger and more committed to justice than, say, the paper’s half-hearted investigation of Obama’s IRS’s efforts to squelch Tea Party activities during the 2012 Presidential campaign—Toles did know Schafer, who had been to his parties before and is a friend of his family. This meant the cartoonist was involved in a blackface cover-up, which is ironic since blackface is itself a coverup. And as the Post knows better than anybody, the coverup is worse than the crime, not that wearing an anti-Megyn Kelly costume with blackface at a private party is a crime. Not yet, anyway.
Confronted by the Post reporters on his perfidy, Toles huminahumina-ed, “I meant that I didn’t recognize any bad intent. I didn’t feel it was my place to tell [Gruber] who my other guest was when she had misinterpreted what the other guest intended” with her costume.” The first part is obviously a poor attempt at spin, and the last part is what he should have told Gruber, but didn’t.
The Post got involved because Gruber wrote an email seeking Post coverage of the scandal–Did you know that what a guest chooses to wear at your private party years ago can be a scandal in 2020? —writing, “I wanted to know who this woman is. . . . What impact does she have on society? I think this is an important story — that a party full of prominent people in Washington welcomed a person in blackface, danced and drank with her, and watched in silence as she harassed two young women of color.”
I must point out here that the alleged harassment consisted of the woman in blackface, Shafer, being at the party, and replying “I’m Megyn Kelly — it’s funny!” when Gruber and a black friend confronted her. Even the accounts of the two guests who confronted Shafer don’t describe “harassment.” Not dropping to one’s knees and begging for forgiveness when someone accuses you of racist conduct and you disagree is not “harassment”—or didn’t used to be.
As I began, I don’t understand this story at all.
Gruber’s friend who joined her in confronting Shafer/Kelly at the party is an African American woman named Lyric Prince. Contacted by the Post reporters, she said that she wants Schafer to have to explain publicly “why she did what she did.”
“I don’t want an apology because that time has long passed,” Prince says. She also wants Toles to make it clear publicly “that what [Schafer] did was wrong and that . . . that’s not the kind of person that he knows to be a good person.” and wants “people who read this story to say to themselves, ‘I cannot excuse my friend’s bad behavior because it does reflect on me if I say nothing.’ ” Prince, witnesses say, shouted at Shafer.
But Shafer was harassing Prince. Now keep that straight; I don’t want to have to go over this again.
Now Toles is groveling, when not spinning. First he told the reporters that he had told his friend at the party that her costume was inappropriate, then he said he was not certain that he had said anything. “I may have told her that wearing blackface wasn’t appropriate, but I’m not sure I did,” he said, “and maybe I should have. . . . I could have told her to leave. I didn’t and that’s on me. Maybe I should have.”
The Post story has now exposed Shafer to the cancel culture, so she is also desperately groveling, telling the Post that the day after the party she called Toles with “absolute remorse about the costume . . . extremely upset on reflection, and apologetic,” explaining that, as Toles now says, “She did not come with the intent to confront, embarrass, ridicule or insult anybody.” Shafer also says she has spent many hours in therapy talking about “how carelessly I behaved. I’m deeply ashamed.”
I know that’s what I do when I make a joke that later I conclude was in bad taste. I go to therapy and discuss it for hours. Doesn’t everybody?
The Post tries to mitigate the damage to Shafer from its resurrecting the Megyn Kelly costume story by telling us that on her Facebook page, “Schafer posts often about her opposition to President Trump and her support of immigrants [presumably this means illegal immigrants…I’m just specifying because democracy dies in darkness], gun control, gay rights and anti-racism causes, including photos she took at marches and demonstrations she attended.”
She’s a good person, you see. Not one of those racist Republicans.
Never mind: the mission was still accomplished. Schafer informed her employer, a government contractor, about the blackface incident and The Post’s forthcoming article, and she was fired.
For a bad choice of costumes at a 2018 Halloween party in a private residence.
I’m sorry, I’m a little slow this morning: explain to me again why this is news?
Toles’s boss, Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, is quoted in the article and says: “Blackface is abhorrent, period.”
Hiatt also says he is glad Toles has apologized, though as we have seen in so many other instances, once a social justice warrior or an outrage mob has a metaphorical knee on your neck, it’s hard to make them take it off. Toles’ apology occurred in another email exchange with Gruber, which did not go well; in fact, it is what prompted Gruber to sic Toles’ own paper on him.
Toles told Gruber he was “wrong” to deny that he knew who was wearing blackface, saying, “I am sorry — for that, and more,” he wrote, and he admitted that Schafer was “a friend.” He said he has realized that wearing blackface “was offensive in any context. I regret I did not see that more clearly at the time, and I apologize to you now unreservedly for that.” But when Toles did not give Gruber the offending guest’s name, offering instead to connect Gruber with Schafer so the latter could apologize, Gruber wrote, “Hiding her name is a deliberate act of white privilege and cowardice, not friendship.” She added, despite her earlier statement that Toles was not responsible for the conduct of his guests, Gruber replied that she has “a hard time believing that you are genuine in remorse. . . . I do not feel comfortable reaching out to a woman who publicly harassed me and my friend — simply because we are not white. This happened in public — and so I want a public apology, not a private one.”
And despite her earlier statement that she did not hold Toles responsible for the conduct of his guests, Gruber wrote, “We are an extension of the company we keep.”
I know this post has gone on far too long, but allow me to register these observations, because I think I’m beginning to understand “what’s going on here” a little better:
1. What happens at a private party, even one attended by a lot of Washington Post employees, should not be treated as news, especially when the party occurred two years go. At most, this is gossip columns stuff, and gossip columns are the bottom of the journalism barrel. The Post turning this into a news story is irresponsible, mean-spirited, unfair journalism.
2. By publishing this non-news story, the Post was pandering to the racial justice mob.
3. If its employee, Toles, had been involved in an actual newsworthy event, the Post would be obligated to cover it as if he were anyone else. Making him the center of a cheap and contrived story that involved no crime, no misconduct on his part, nothing that he had control over or responsibility for, is unforgivable—cruel, disloyal, and wrong.
4. Toles was correct to refuse to identify Shafer to Gruber, who is emotionally unhinged. No host should identify a party guest to a stranger, especially one with a vendetta, without that guest’s consent.
5. Toles and Shafer are progressives, and now forced to suffer in the culture they created. It is still unjust and unfair, but this how the leaders of the French Revolution ended up headless.
6. The reporters didn’t ask Fred Hyatt about the Post’s complete abandonment of any commentary on Virginia Governor Northam’s history of wearing blackface, or how its continued cheerleading for Northam’s various progressive policy measures fits with his paper’s decision to expose Shafer, who is neither a public figure nor and elected official, to the cancel culture. Nor did the reporters ask Prince and Gruber about their position on Northam, and if they were as determined to punish him as they were to shame Shafer.
7. It is wrong to conclude that Shafer isn’t ” the kind of person that I know to be a good person” based on the evidence of her party costume. It is completely fair to conclude that Gruber and Prince are not good people, however, based on their statements and conduct. They are bullies, they are self-righteous, they are without empathy or compassion, they are vindictive, and they, like so many of the compatriots, are engaged in an opportunistic power play, which the Post, being without proportion or compassion itself, happily enabled.
8. What’s going on here? Progressives and activists are using the toxic combination of the George Floyd Freakout, the desperation and cowardice of those in positions of power to survive the chaos, and the complete ethical bankruptcy of journalists to grab whatever benefits they can, achieve every ideological agenda item no matter how outlandish, and settle as many scores as possible, regardless of the inevitable carnage to lives, the culture and the nation.
Yeah, I guess I do understand after all.