Media Buzz

Gary Cohn speaks out, stays at the White House, takes flak from both sides

Howard Kurtz

Gary Cohn just can’t win.

He was under enormous pressure to speak out about Charlottesville. And when he did, he got hammered for it.

Cohn is a key figure as the head of the president’s National Economic Council, a former Goldman Sachs executive trusted by Wall Street. The markets had dropped on a rumor that he might quit.

And that rumor wasn’t far off the mark. The New York Times reports that Cohn drafted a resignation letter after the violence in Charlottesville but decided not to submit it.

There was a media drumbeat for anyone working for the president to bail on him. It’s typified by this New Republic headline: “Every Trump official with a Conscience Must Resign.”

To say this is driven by an ideological distaste for this president would be an understatement. Trump critics don’t want to hear the argument that good people should stay in government to make things work, even if they don’t agree with some of what Trump does. The president’s media detractors would welcome the sense of crisis that multiple resignations would bring.

After Charlottesville, the Times ran this headline: “Jewish Trump Staff Silent on His Defense of Rally with Anti-Semitic Marchers.”

That wasn’t entirely true. As the story noted, Ivanka Trump had tweeted: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.” Cohn was described by several people close to him as “disgusted” and “very upset” by the president’s remarks.

But do Jewish Americans have a special responsibility to speak out? Believe me, I get the special sensitivity when dealing with torch-bearing marchers shouting anti-Semitic slogans. But shouldn’t all Americans be offended by white supremacists who preach racism, and the violence that left a 32-year-old woman dead?

Well, Cohn has now addressed Charlottesville in an interview with Financial Times: “Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the K.K.K. I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”

While he didn’t mention Trump by name, Cohn made himself clear.

At the same time he said: “As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job.”

Gary Cohn made a decision: He felt compelled to speak out, but he’s not being driven out of his job, despite what he said was enormous pressure.

The result: Trump supporters are trashing him, and some pundits are saying he didn’t go far enough and should have resigned.

The critics love to get on Ivanka and Jared Kushner when the president does anything they disagree with, as if they should denounce Donald Trump (who happens to be her dad and his father-in-law) or just plain quit.

Such unrealistic sniping is all too easy from the outside, and resignations in principle are rare in the media and corporate worlds as well. Cohn may have chosen his words carefully, but he did let his voice be heard rather than just sending signals through anonymous leaks.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.