The Post, as it happens, is also home to the official counter-narrative, though you’ll have to look harder to find it: Its most prominent platform is on page B1, where Milloy has a contract for a single weekly column. He writes more when he’s moved, which, this fall, was often. In Milloy’s telling, Fenty and Rhee were villains who closed down black-majority schools and heedlessly sacked black teachers and bureaucrats.
Milloy’s column was about the only place where many white Washingtonians even encountered that narrative, which reached its apotheosis in a scathing post-election column headlined “Ding-dong, Fenty’s gone. The wicked mayor is gone.” Reveling in his schadenfreude, Milloy expounded on his theory as to why Fenty bit it. “In a stunning repudiation of divisive, autocratic leadership, District residents Tuesday toppled the city’s ruling troika: Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. All busted up,” he wrote in a column that quickly went viral. “The trio’s contempt for everyday people was handed back to them in spades at the polls.”
Of course, Milloy wasn’t eligible to vote against Fenty himself: He lives in Fort Washington, in Prince George’s County. All the same, he was the first major writer to play up racial voting dynamics that most of Washington could sense—but didn’t dare articulate—well ahead of election day. Milloy accused Fenty of catering to the privileged. He also took aim at Fenty supporters, coining a phrase readers are unlikely to forget anytime soon. After recounting Fenty’s refusal to meet with Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou, Milloy tore into Fenty-ites who might not recognize the importance of such a gesture.
“Watch them at the chic new eateries,” Milloy wrote. “Fenty’s hip newly arrived ‘creative class’ ﬁring up their ‘social media’ networks whenever he’s under attack: Why should the mayor have to stop his work just to meet with some old biddies, they tweet. Who cares if the mayor is arrogant as long as he gets the job done? Myopic little twits.”
“Myopic little twits” seemed like code (barely coded code, at that) for young, white gentriﬁers, and Milloy got gigabytes of angry e-mails that assumed as much. “On behalf of all young white new residents to the District—thanks for making us feel so welcome!” one furious note read. “Let me clue you in to something. We’re not leaving. We are her[e] to stay because we like this city and we’re only going to become more involved.”
But where the hundreds of irate comments clogged the Post’s website following the publication of Milloy’s “Ding, Dong” column were testimony to his having struck a nerve, the local blogosphere’s reaction was a bit different: Milloy, the myopic twits argued, was yesterday’s man.
“The column goes so much further than legitimate political criticism allows, depicting an author with an apparent desire to re-inject a culture of divisiveness back into the city,” wrote DCist.com editor Aaron Morrissey. And why would he do that? “I don’t know if ‘offensive’ is the right word for it. He’s a columnist, and his job is to churn up reactions. It just struck me as being a little out of touch.”
Adam Serwer, a D.C.-bred American Prospect writer and frequent Twitter presence, argued that Milloy’s “divisiveness” was a red herring: “It’s important to note that Gray never talked like this, even if some of his supporters did,” Serwer wrote. On the phone, Serwer, who’s biracial, explains that Milloy had dragged race into something that was primarily about economics. Serwer ﬁgures high unemployment rates led to Fenty’s undoing, not the snubbing of venerated black women. Why overstate racial resentment? “He sort of represents a certain kind of establishment perspective.”
Once upon a time, Milloy was the young writer using terms like “out of touch” and “establishment perspective” to describe his targets. That those words are now being used to describe him is perhaps a clue as to how much things have changed since the days of community uprisings and disco. Talking to Milloy, and reading his column, the rhetoric feels a bit dated—right down to the undercurrent of college Marxism. “Troika?”
Talk to Milloy about the state of the media and his cranky-old-uncle schtick becomes even more apparent. “Sounds perverted,” he gripes when asked about Twitter, his voice suddenly mockingly high: “Follow me on Twitter, and watch me tweet...”
“There was some anger,” Milloy says of his September columns. “There was [also] some, ‘Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking.’” Those who gave Milloy a thumbs-up on his screed were likely frustrated with Fenty’s administration.