Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen is a U.S. writer and humorist best known as the author of "The Ethicist" column in "The New York Times Magazine". Cohen's column is syndicated throughout the U.S. and Canada; he also answers listeners' questions on ethics on the National Public Radio radio news program, "All Things Considered".

Cohen's book, "The Good, the Bad & the Difference: How to Tell Right from Wrong in Everyday Situations" (ISBN 9780767908139) is based on his magazine column. Among his earlier books is "Diary of a Flying Man" (ISBN 9780394561240), a collection of stories and humor pieces.

Cohen wrote for "Slate" starting in 1996. At "Slate", he became known for "News Quiz," a satiric reader-participation feature which began in February 1998 and ended in November 2000.


Cohen's title, according to the National Public Radio website, is "Freelance Ethicist."

Cohen's ethical beliefs

In a public speech archived as a podcast on the "New York Times" podcast website, Cohen outlines his personal beliefs about ethics as being ultimately dependent on a person's immediate circumstances, while dismissing the notion that personal moral character might influence an individual's ethics.

Cohen categorically rejects the idea that individual people are inherently good or bad, asserting that in his opinion all individuals have in them the capacity to do good or bad at different times, in different contexts. In Cohen's view of ethics, individuals are all more or less the same with respect to ethics, but society is often to blame for the very existence of an ethical dilemma, which aligns him (by his own admission) with many of the beliefs of the Society for Ethical Culture; a fundamental premise of this ethical framework is that humans are morally obligated to promote changes in society so all people can lead more ethical lives.

Campaign donations and other publicity

Cohen donated $585 to MoveOn.org's voter registration effort in 2004, apparently in violation of "Times" policy, which had banned political donations in 2003. The Spokane, Wash., Spokesman-Review decided on June 20, 2007, to drop Cohen's column, which had been scheduled to begin running in the paper on the following Saturday, because of his donation. Cohen responded that he saw no ethical violation, because he viewed MoveOn as no more activist than other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America. Nonetheless, he said he would not make such donations in the future. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19113485/page/2/]

He received further publicity, positive this time, when a satiric novel, Daddy-An Absolutely Authentic Fake Memoir by Andrea Troy, was published in 2008. It is about a columnist who answers readers moral questions and created additional interest in his column.

Television writer

Before becoming a journalist, Cohen wrote extensively for television programs. He shared in three Emmy Awards for his work on "Late Night with David Letterman" during the mid-1980s. The "Late Show" newsletter of August 15, 2005, credits him for the August 1990 remote "Crushing Things with a 150-ton Diesel Locomotive," taped in Cromwell, Connecticut. Cohen went on to write for the television programs "Ed" and "TV Nation", sharing in an Emmy Award for the latter in 1995. He was head writer for the Rosie O'Donnell show.

Personal life

Cohen was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania in a Reform Jewish household, but has not been inside a synagogue for thirty years, with the exception of bar mitzvahs and weddings. He graduated from the State University of New York at Albany, class of 1974, and attended graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts as a music major studying composition.

He was formerly married to the writer and activist Katha Pollitt, with whom he has a daughter, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen.

External links

* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4473047 Biography] and [http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/ethicist/ Listeners' Ethical Dilemmas] , from the NPR website
*New York Times Timestalks Series: [http://nytimes.whsites.net/talk/podcasts.html]
* [http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=ctax&v1=Top%2fFeatures%2fMagazine%2fColumns%2fThe%20Ethicist The Ethicist Archives] at the "New York Times" website
* [http://www.gothamist.com/archives/2004/10/08/randy_cohen_the_ethicist.php October 2004 interview with Cohen] from a blog about New York City
**December 1999: [http://www.reason.com/news/show/31198.html The Ethicist Who Isn't] , a critique of the column from Reason magazine
**March 2002: [http://www.slate.com/id/2063157/ The 10 best questions never asked of "The Ethicist"] , a March 2002
**November 2000: [http://www.slate.com/id/93140/ No. 500: "End of an Error"] , Cohen's 500th (and last) "News Quiz"
**November 1997: [http://www.slate.com/id/3302/ Crying Through the Tears] , about Alan Bennett
*imdb name|id=0169694|name=Randy Cohen
* June 2007: [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19113485/page/2/ Journalists dole out campaign cash] from msnbc
* March 27, 2002: [http://pamelazoslov.blogspot.com/2008/05/take-his-advice-or-dont.html Take His Advice - Or Don't] , interview with Randy Cohen, the man behing The New York Times' Ethicist, from the Cleveland Free Times

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