After 12 years and 614 columns (by his count), Randy Cohen has penned his last “Ethicist” column for the New York Times Magazine, signing off last Sunday.
Cohen’s columns, in which he gave letter-writers advice on the right thing to do in ethically sticky situations, often glanced over cultural and ideological topics, which Cohen consistently addressed from a pungent left-wing perspective. According to the paper's veteran columnist, Bush was an incompetent and insane president who lied us into war, socialism is a good thing, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates should have sued the police, and no one can work for a tobacco company in good conscience. Below are some liberal lowlights from Cohen, both from his column, his blog, and various television appearances.
In an October 24, 2010 column, Cohen wrote that no one could honorably work for a tobacco company.
The gravity of the misdeeds is also significant. I believe, for example, nobody may honorably work for a tobacco company, the maker of a toxic product that, used as directed, annually kills 400,000 Americans. How grave is too grave? Alas, there is no universal bright line. But your employer seems to have crossed yours.
On June 20, 2010 Cohen defended socialism's good name:
Incidentally, not that the president is one, but how does it defame a person to call him a “socialist” (outside of nutty far-right circles) -- a set of ideas many advanced Western democracies find congenial, what with the accessible health-care, affordable higher education and good public transportation?
In a July 27, 2009 blog item on nytimes.com, he wrote of the then-current controversy over Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, urging Gates to sue the Cambridge police for arresting him for disorderly conduct, arguing that a lawsuit would be a valuable tool to probe "the troubled history of police interactions with African-Americans." Cohen judged the entire episode through the prism of race, failing to address the fact that at least two of Crowley's black fellow officers back him up and not Gates.
We Americans are often mocked for being overly litigious, but we are not nearly litigious enough. In the right circumstances, filing suit can be a way to pursue social justice, and that makes it thoroughly ethical....Social change proceeds through the combination of many forces -- legislation, litigation and public discourse among them. For Gates to contribute to this effort would be laudable.
During an April 24, 2009 appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO, he praised Obama while suggesting his predecessor George W. Bush was incompetent and insane:
I'm a huge Obama fan. I think it's such an unbelievably great thing to have a President who's competent and not insane." Cohen's praise for President Barack Obama, combined with the cheap insult of former President George Bush, came just before a "but" as he expressed disappointment with Obama's pledge to not prosecute CIA operatives who "tortured" terrorists.
In June 2007, after an MSNBC investigation revealed that Cohen had donated to the left-wing MoveOn.org in August 2004 in an apparent violent of Times’ um, ethics, Cohen defended his donation with a pretentious email (excerpted):
We admire those colleagues who participate in their communities -- help out at the local school, work with Little League, donate to charity...But no such activity is or can be non-ideological. Few papers would object to a journalist donating to the Boy Scouts or joining the Catholic Church. But the former has an official policy of discriminating against gay children; the latter has views on reproductive rights far more restrictive than those of most Americans. Should reporters be forbidden to support those groups? I'd say not. Unless a group's activities impinge on a reporter's beat, the reporter should be free to donate to a wide range of nonprofits.
And during a November 20, 2005 appearance on the “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” on CBS, Cohen reacted with outrage when host Ferguson raised Bill Clinton’s name and accused Bush of lying America into war.
Oh, Clinton, he's been out of office for, you know, how long? Seven years. Some little lie about his personal life. We've got a guy now who lied the country into a war. You're talking about Clinton from seven years ago?