Marion Barry. You think you’ve heard the last of someone, but they keep turning up, like a bad penny.
Back when I lived in the Washington, DC, area, Marion Barry was the mayor of DC, and a bad mayor was he. I was neither surprised nor sad when he exchanged the mayor’s office and his suit-and-tie for a small cell and prison stripes, having been caught in a cocaine sting. He spent half a year behind bars, as I recall, and after he got out he was, beyond all reason, elected mayor again.
As if making a continued statement about the dysfunctional state of the DC government, Marion Barry is still in city politics, now as a city councilman. There’s that bad penny.
And Tim Page has gotten himself on the bad penny’s bad side. It seems that Mr Page, a renowned, Pulitzer-Prize–winning music critic for the Washington Post, wound up on Marion Barry’s email list, and had trouble getting off of it. In his annoyance, he sent email to Mr Barry’s staff that included the following message, which, in the publicity surrounding this news item, is being circulated far and wide:
Must we hear about it every time this crack addict attempts to rehabilitate himself with some new — and typically half-witted — political grandstanding? I’d be grateful if you would take me off your mailing list. I cannot think of anything the useless Marion Barry could do that would interest me in the slightest, up to and including overdose.
Mr Page didn’t put that in his Washington Post column, but he did write the private message from his WaPo email address (as I presume, the one that was on the councilman’s mailing list, so it made sense for him to send it from there). Mr Barry is screaming for the firing of Mr Page, is calling the email “despicable” and Mr Page a “lowlife”, and is claiming, in some twisted interpretation, that there’s a racial aspect to this.
There’s nothing racial involved. Marion Barry is a useless crack-head, and I can’t imagine how he remains in enough public favour to keep elected office. He exemplifies what’s wrong with DC politics and government. And Tim Page had the right to say what he said in a private message.
And so, a few points:
- Marion Barry is a public figure. You put yourself in public life, you have to accept that people will say stuff like this about you. Deal.
- Even if Mr Page had put his statement in the Washington Post in an Op-Ed piece, it would be fine. You, or I, or Marion Barry might or might not agree with it, but it’s a valid opinion.
- He did not, though, put it in the WaPo. He put it in a private email message, which Marion Barry’s staff, not Mr Page, publicized.
- You don’t get to publicize a piece of private email, and then scream about the criticism of you that’s contained therein. If you make it public, that’s on you.
- It doesn’t make the slightest difference that Mr Page wrote this from a WaPo email address. It’s clearly an opinion, he’s clearly not speaking for the newspaper in an official capacity, and it’s clearly private correspondence.
- There’s nothing racial here.
- Mr Page owes no apology, and should receive no disciplinary action from his employer.
Unfortunately, Mr Page is apologizing, and it’s galling to me to see him have to grovel at the feet of this useless crack-head of a “politician”. And it’s galling to me to see that the Washington Post is not standing behind him, but is taking “appropriate internal action” while calling the message “a terrible mistake”.
No, that is a terrible mistake, and my opinion of the Washington Post and its institutional integrity has just dropped like Eliot Spitzer’s approval ratings.
The Washington Post should be ashamed of its collective self. Tim Page should hold his head high. And Marion Barry should leave public life and find a nice, comfortable rock to crawl under.