The Washington Post is taking heat on Thursday over a bizarre report about an offensive costume a woman wore at a 2018 Halloween party hosted by one of its staffers.
The Post reported that its cartoonist Tom Toles received an email last week from Lexie Gruber, a guest who attended his annual Halloween celebration nearly two years ago despite never meeting the host, about an incident involving his friend Sue Schafer, who wore blackface as part of her costume.
“In 2018, I attended a Halloween party at your home,” Gruber wrote to Toles. “I understand that you are not responsible for the behavior of your guests, but at the party, a woman was in Blackface. She harassed me and my friend — the only two women of color — and it was clear she made her ‘costume’ with racist intent.”
As explained in the report, Schafer, who was 54 at the time, dressed up as then-recently ousted NBC host Megyn Kelly, who drew criticism for questioning if wearing blackface on Halloween was okay if the costume was meant out of respect and not out of mockery. However, Schafer put on blackface as a satirical jab at Kelly as if the journalist was fine with the racist gesture.
Gruber, 27, told Toles that to this day the incident "weighed heavily on my heart — it was abhorrent and egregious," particularly after the death of George Floyd and urged him to identify the woman from his party.
“I wanted to know who this woman is ... What impact does she have on society?" Gruber wrote in the e-mail to Toles. "I think this is an important story — that a party full of prominent people in Washington welcomed a person in blackface, danced and drank with her, and watched in silence as she harassed two young women of color.”
Gruber and her friend Lyric Prince, who are Puerto Rican and African American respectively, confronted Schafer at the party about the costume.
"You understand how offensive that could be to a person of color?” Gruber told Schafer, who attempted to defend the costume.
According to the Post, "some guests at the party say they wish they had confronted Schafer more aggressively" while "others say that she has already paid a price and that her embarrassment and regret were evident when she left the party in tears."
Toles initially responded to Gruber by saying he didn't know who was wearing blackface at his party but did recall telling Schafer at the time that her costume was an "ill-considered attempt at satire."
When he told Gruber he wouldn't identify Schafer, Gruber told him, "Hiding her name is a deliberate act of white privilege and cowardice, not friendship.”
Prince, 36, told the Post, "I felt very unsafe talking to that person in the first place. I was in an environment that, if it got heated, it would decidedly not be in my best interest.” She also revealed that she sought help from a therapist, saying she felt "threatened and physically and emotionally exposed... I felt powerless in a way that I never want to feel again."
Witnesses said Gruber "yelled" at Schafer after Prince confronted her and they both left the party shortly after.
The Post reported that Schafer, a vocal critic of President Trump and an advocate for social causes on Facebook, knew she made a "terrible mistake" the moment she arrived at the party. She reportedly "spent many hours in therapy talking about 'how carelessly I behaved. I’m deeply ashamed.'"
Following the party, Schafer emailed Toles and his wife, Gretchen, to apologize.
“With this story, they’ll get the public humiliation they want, but it won’t foster any real dialogue between us," Schafer told the Post. "I wish they would talk to me. I made a mistake, and I understand now that when black people make a mistake, they can get killed.”
Philippa Hughes, an Asian-American Washington-based arts entrepreneur who attended the party, expressed her conflicted feelings about rehashing the incident.
“When it becomes public, it will be too much of a punishment. It’s unfair to go back and attack some clueless woman, because she’s not a public person and she was punished then," Hughes told the Post. But on the other hand, people do need to be held up as an example of the lines we’re going to draw about what’s acceptable behavior. Every single person at that party should have said something to her. There’s culpability all around."
The Post also reported that when Schafer informed her employer on Wednesday that a story about the blackface incident was about the be published, she was immediately fired.
The report was widely panned on social media.
"What an utterly atrocious article, in which everyone involved acknowledges they're just out to ruin a life and WaPo gleefully underwrites it," Washington Examiner executive editor Seth Mandel reacted.
"A 3,000-word, two-byline investigation informing you that a woman you have never heard of, who is not a public figure (until now!), wore an offensive Halloween costume two years ago at a WaPo cartoonist's party," New York Magazine contributing writer Jesse Singal tweeted.
"WaPo should explain why it published a feature about an offensive costume a non-public figure wore to a private party two years ago and consider an editor's note that it did not meet the paper's standards, which declare that 'fairness includes relevance,'" radio and podcast host Josh Barro said.
"This article has no reason to exist and no one involved in it comes out looking good, including the authors and publication (all of whom I respect). But perhaps it will have the unintended consequence of shocking some papers into not doing this ever again," Tablet Magazine senior writer Yair Rosenberg tweeted.
"The Washington Post Halloween blackface story is an embarrassment to journalism. For the love of all that is good, please let this be the zenith of cancel culture," Reason senior editor Robby Soave pleaded.
The Washington Post did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.