Richard Cohen or a jackass, you make the call.
At the end of his latest, Richard Cohen offers the preemptive defense
that "I run the risk of old-fogeyness for suggesting [Miley Cyrus is] a tasteless twit." As if saying Miley Cyrus is tasteless is some kind of precarious limb to venture out on these days. But Cohen's preemptive defense isn't actually about saying Miley Cyrus is tacky, it's about the fact that he somehow connected her VMA performance to the Steubenville rape.
If you're reading that and saying "oh no he didn't," rest assured, he did. Not even in any remotely substantive way. No, Cohen's train of thought, as best it can be traced through a typically incoherent column, is this: He saw this one young woman (Miley Cyrus) dancing suggestively while scantily clad, and it made him think of a rape case about which he read an article a few weeks ago. Not because the two were connected in any real way, but just ... y'know ... when Richard Cohen sees a scantily clad 20 year old dancing on television, he thinks about a 16 year old who was repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped after passing out. And what he thinks is that this would be a great opportunity to suggest that rape isn't really rape:
The first thing you should know about the so-called Steubenville Rape is that this was not a rape involving intercourse. The next thing you should know is that there weren’t many young men involved—just two were convicted.
As if penis-in-vagina is the only possible form of rape and so—never mind what the law says—this girl was not raped. As if it is always the case that every single person involved in committing a crime is convicted. It's not that Cohen doesn't think there's a problem. It's that he thinks:
Illegal is sort of beside the point. Right, proper, nice, respectful, decent—you choose the word—is more apt. This is what got me: a teenage culture that was brutal and unfeeling, that treated the young woman as dirt.
Cohen does not elaborate on which crimes and what circumstances he believes render illegality beside the point. But we can infer, from the way he frames his "OMG did you know Steubenville wasn't exactly what I think of when I think of gang rape and therefore it wasn't exactly rape at all, says me" conclusions in Miley Cyrus commentary that the common elements are young women and sex. Shocker, right? Apparently Steubenville is Miley's fault, because "acts such as hers not only objectify women but debase them." As if objectification of women began when twerking was invented, as if there was anything new in the charge that it's young women's sexualized performances that degrade our culture, as if such charges hadn't in past years been applied to young women for wearing and doing things that today would look ridiculously quaint. "They encourage a teenage culture that has set the women’s movement back on its heels." Yes, it's totally teenagers that are responsible for gender inequality. Adults in powerful positions, to say nothing of the deep roots of said inequality, have nothing to do with it, it's all these rotten teenagers with their pop music and their suggestive dancing and their indecent yet not necessarily illegal (if you ask Richard Cohen) raping.
So when Cohen wrote "I run the risk of old-fogeyness," if he had any sense, he knew that the real risk he ran was that anyone paying attention would see him as the rape apologist he is. He was just hoping to deflect attention from what he was really doing here.