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Columnist Cohen lacks sensitivity to women

Rarely do I spend an entire column vitiating the writings of another columnist. But Richard Cohen's online entry for The Washington Post, urging reporters to stop writing about new allegations by a former girlfriend of Justice Clarence Thomas, ur...

Rarely do I spend an entire column vitiating the writings of another columnist. But Richard Cohen's online entry for The Washington Post, urging reporters to stop writing about new allegations by a former girlfriend of Justice Clarence Thomas, urges me to draw out and launch my weaponry of choice.

Cohen, of whom I have never been a fan, shows such a lack of sensitivity toward what women have gone through regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, his claims are stunning.

He is responding to the revelations that a former girlfriend/sexual partner of Thomas has shopped around a memoir of her 19-year-old relationship with the man.

The woman, Lillian McEwen, is a retired lawyer, prosecutor and administrative judge for federal agencies. She writes about her own sexual liaisons with Thomas, his obsession with pornography, his constant and bizarre attempts to seduce women in the workplace and his use of totally inappropriate sexual language in the workplace. She completely confirms Anita Hill's description to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 of a man who has an abnormal and offensive addiction to pornography and certainly does not deserve to be sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet Cohen dismisses McEwen's confirmation in a tone that is frighteningly similar to, "Boys will be boys."

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"Every 20 years or so, some woman surfaces to accuse the now-Supreme Court justice of being a male chauvinist pig -- to resurrect an old term from the tie-dyed era -- but falls frustratingly short of making a case for true sexual harassment. Thomas stands nearly alone on the court in his shallowness of his scholarship and the narrowness of his compassion. But when it comes to his alleged sexual boorishness, he stands condemned of being a man."

Really? Is this dunderhead serious? Maybe most or all men look at pornography when they are young or even into adulthood. I don't know. But do all men, especially lawyers who are aware of the laws on sexual harassment, bring it up at work, talk about it with women, pitch them for sexual liaisons and engage in prurient conversation?

I have worked at two law firms and never heard any such conversation. I can assure you that if men in those firms behaved that way, they would have been disciplined and if the behavior continued, they would have been fired.

At least Cohen is honest about why he is defending Thomas, which is more than one can say about many of his defenders:

"I have nothing against McEwen, but I hope her book fails to find a publisher. Some of this is self-protection. I was young and boorish once myself and have turned out to be a veritable saint."

The facts tell a slightly different story, especially in terms of him calling himself a saint in his later years. As a 57-year-old columnist for The Washington Post, he had his own run-in with a Post aide and reporter in 1998: Cohen was accused of engaging in "inappropriate behavior" toward Devon Spurgeon, a 23-year-old editorial aide at the paper. The New York Observer wrote a story about it.

Whew! Of course teenagers do irresponsible things. It's part of their union contract. I was no exception in that sense, as a child of the Woodstock Generation. But 57-year-olds are far from their teen years. And Clarence Thomas was hardly in his youth when he harassed Anita Hill and, according to McEwen, plenty of other women at various work places. If Cohen were obsessed with pornography and running around his workplace talking about pornography or about a fascination with women with large breasts or other entirely inappropriate sexual topics, as Thomas was, then Cohen is no saint or anything thereunto approximating.

As noted above, Cohen describes the use of the term, "male chauvinist pig" as being from the tie-dyed era. By comparison Mr. Cohen, I must say, is positively Neolithic and should crawl back into whatever fossil bed whence he emerged.

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Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail her at bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com .

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