Jason Riley has worked for the Wall Street Journal editorial board for 18 years. Fourteen years ago, he was named senior editorial writer at the Journal. For almost ten years, he's been on the editorial board of the Journal. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is the easily the most respected daily print perch for conservatism.
Riley writes many unsigned editorials, so he may not be as famous as other conservative writers, but among conservatives, he's widely known and highly regarded.
So it struck a few conservative readers as off-key when Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery wrote of "Jason Riley, a black conservative who has become a darling of the right after his commentary following the Brown shooting and unrest in Ferguson, Mo."
One such conservative reader, Mollie Hemingway, knocked Lowery's line as a sign of "Casual racism/ignorance." I wouldn't go so far as Hemingway — I think we should all charge racism less often, especially when dealing with matters that are racially loaded. But here's the thing about that term, "has become a darling of the right": It underplays Riley's long-time high stature in a way that can come across as demeaning, even though I don't think Lowery meant it that way.
But look at how the liberal writers and news page reporters at Lowery's paper uses the term, and you notice a pattern:
Last May, Peter Galuszka described Virginia candidate E.W. Jackson as "a darling of the right-wing media."
The Post's Wonkbook on April 4, 2013, quoted liberal writer Ta-Nehesi Coates writing "The present darling of the right wing, Dr. Benjamin Carson...."
Conservative writer Jennifer Rubin uses the term a lot, as well as the term "darling of the Left," and she uses it for darlings of all colors.* If you look at the center-to-left writers at the Washington Post, however, every time they have used the term "darling of the right," in the past two years, it has been to describe a black man.
At the New York Times, the phrase "darling of the right" has appeared three times in the past two years. The "darlings" Ben Carson twice (including that Coates piece cited at Wonkblog) and one Ronald Reagan.
It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but it is a pattern — center-to-left writers at the biggest newspapers tend to call black conservatives "darlings of the right." Hemingway flagged an instance.
Lowery didn't appreciate the tweet from Hemingway. He proceeded to tweet 50 times mocking Hemingway's term "casual racism," because, as he said to me on Twitter today, "I spend a lot of time reading and writing about race. 'Casual racism' is not a common phrase — it's a made up idea."
Lowery and I clearly read different things. I, for example, read the Washington Post, where you come across the notion of "casual racism" if you read Katrina vanden Heuvel, Alyssa Rosenberg, Clinton Yates, Eugene Robinson, Ann Hornaday, Kate Manning, Eugene Robinson again, or Frank Ahrens.
These are both semantic questions: Does "darling of the right" have some sort of demeaning tone with racial overtones? Does "casual racism" mean anything? I actually think they're good discussions that might reveal some latent attitudes towards race and ideology. We should have these discussions.
*UPDATE Monday at 1:44 pm: I added some language here to clarify that Rubin doesn't have the monochromatic usage of "darling" that her Post colleagues have.