Richard Cohen’s New Personal Best In False Equivalency

What makes WaPo columnist Richard Cohen even more maddening than his squandering of some of the most valuable journalistic real estate in the world for decade after decade is his obliviousness towards his own manifest weaknesses. I mean, you’d really think a guy who’s been barbecued for dumb and reactionary comments about race and for lazy assertions of false equivalence between Left and Right would avoid a lazy assertion of false equivalence on a racial topic. Maybe this really is, as cynics might assert, about click-bait or just a bored desire to attract attention.

What I’m talking about is Cohen’s disastrous column today entitled “Ferguson and Benghazi’s troubling parallels.” In case you wonder if he was thrown into the fire by a headline-writing editor, note the first line in the column reads: “Ferguson has become the liberal Benghazi.”

Cohen’s point of departure–not exactly newsworthy, by the way, since the report in question came out 20 days ago–is the aha! semi-exoneration of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson by the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus, says Cohen, liberals who assumed Wilson was in the wrong did the same thing as conservatives did on Benghazi!, imposing ideology on facts.

What’s baffling about this claim is that by and large “liberals” (including his WaPo colleague Jonathan Capehart) have accepted the DOJ finding on Wilson; the continued outrage in and about Ferguson has been spurred by the other DOJ report finding, which Cohen himself characterizes as showing that “Ferguson’s police force was a cesspool of racism, incompetence and corruption.” Where’s the equivalency to Benghazi!, where the lack of evidence of official wrongdoing convinces conservatives a vast coverup must be underway?

Any fair-minded observer would look at both parts of the DOJ report on Ferguson and acknowledge that the police department’s history–along with the implausibility of Wilson’s Rube Goldberg account of his interactions with Michael Brown, which unexpectedly turned out to be accurate, best as we can now tell–amply justified the protests, the demands for an elevation of the investigation beyond St. Louis County, and the anger at efforts to defend Wilson by demonizing Brown and the entire African-American population of Ferguson. Again, where are the “troubling parallels” to Benghazi! here?

But clearly Cohen did not ask himself these questions:

Ferguson became a cause — and has remained one. It is a town of only about 21,000 — a bad day at Yankee Stadium — and yet it has repeatedly been the lead story for many news organizations. It was made to represent institutional racism across the nation, but it is, really, a tiny nondescript place where a supposedly racist and unjustifiable killing by the police did not occur. It does, though, conform to the very keen feelings of people who see white racism everywhere.

So I guess if the Ferguson police department was a “cesspool of racism, incompetence and corruption,” precisely as African-American residents had claimed, it doesn’t matter because it’s a “tiny nondescript place” where one person shot by the police shooting wasn’t innocent. That’s some great moral reasoning there, Mr. Cohen. Glad you have once again set yourself up as a courageous and clear-eyed scold, exposing liberal hypocrisy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.