The Manichean relationship between Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen and his occasional readers on the Internet is perhaps summed up best by a series of 2013 Gawker headlines. From time to time, the replacement-level punditry of Cohen includes (or is entirely based on) some sexist or racist trope. The Internet, often led by Gawker, notices.
So, today, a Cohen column about … I’m not sure, something about “taking the Internet express to Iowa” to muse about 2016, is given the Hamilton Nolan headline “Richard Cohen has written something insane about interracial marriage.” This follows in the steps of:
That last column was part of Cohen’s short-lived outrage over Edward Snowden’s leaks. Months later, Cohen wrote a piece about how he’d been wrong about Snowden. This got plenty of traffic and buzz, but emphasized Cohen’s role in the media firmament. He’s not terribly bright or influential. (You don’t see him in those posses of columnists ushered in to meet with the president). He is what I will term an Outrage Muppet: He exists to make the Internet angry.
This isn’t a new role. Decades ago, the Outrage Muppet would appear on The Morton Downey, Jr. Show or talk radio, to say incindiary or ignorant things. The self-selected audience would get cathartically angry. Nothing’s changed since then, except the ever-easier access to offensive material. To steal a line from a friend: Twitter getting angry at someone is like a congressman saying a prayer. It’s a meaningless ritual that needs a hook.