Journalist Joseph Epstein found himself in hot water over the weekend after he called out Jill Biden and suggested she stop calling herself a doctor — even though she is one — in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. This is not the first time Epstein has found himself in the middle of a controversy, though.
In 1970, Epstein wrote an essay for Harper’s Magazine, in which he used the n-word and said non-heterosexual people are “cursed.”
“There is much my four sons can do in their lives that might cause me anguish, that might outrage me, that might make me ashamed of them and of myself as their father,” he wrote at the end of the essay. “But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become heterosexual.”
Naturally, his essay got a lot of pushback — especially from members of the LGBTQ+ community. In October 1970, members of the Gay Activists Alliance protested outside of the magazine’s offices in New York City and were angry the publication went ahead and printed Epstein’s piece and didn’t apologize for his hurtful words.
One year later, Merle Miller, a former Harper’s editor, wrote a personal essay for the New York Times Magazine in which he publicly came out and touched upon Epstein’s shocking views. Epstein wrote he “would wish homosexuality off the face of this earth” if he could and added that it “would not be simple” if a close pal were gay.
In response, Miller wrote, “I could not help wondering what Epstein, who is, I believe a literary critic, would do about the person and the work of W.H. Auden, homosexual and generally considered to be the greatest living poet in English. ‘We must love one another or die.’ Except for homosexuals?”
Epstein never apologized for his 1970 essay, but in 2015, he finally addressed what he said. “In 1970, some 45 years ago, I wrote an essay in - Harper’s on the subject of homosexuality,” he wrote for The Washington Examiner in a piece called “The Unassailable Virtue of Victims.”
“The chief points of my essay were that no one had a true understanding of the origins of human homosexuality, that there was much false tolerance on the part of some people toward homosexuals; that for many reasons homosexuality could be a tough card to have drawn in life; and that given a choice, owing to the complications of homosexual life, most people would prefer their children to be heterosexual,” he wrote. “Quotations from that essay today occupy the center of my Wikipedia entry. In every history of gay life in America the essay has a prominent place. When I write something controversial, this essay is brought up, usually by the same professional gay liberationists, to be used against me.”
He added, “That I am pleased the tolerance for homosexuality has widened in America and elsewhere, that in some respects my own aesthetic sensibility favors much homosexual artistic production (Cavafy, Proust, Auden), cuts neither ice nor slack. My only hope now is that, on my gravestone, the words Noted Homophobe aren’t carved.”
Still, "homophobe" and "racist" are just two (of many) words being tossed around the internet when it comes to Epstein. One person tweeted, "As an academic and a future (female) doctor, I have to say that Joseph Epstein's @WSJ article on @DrBiden was more than misogynistic - it was insulting, demeaning, and discounted all the hard work that academics do. But then, what can we expect from an uncouth homophobe?"
As an academic and a future (female) doctor, I have to say that Joseph Epstein's @WSJ article on @DrBiden was more than misogynistic - it was insulting, demeaning, and discounted all the hard work that academics do. But then, what can we expect from an uncouth homophobe?— Maya Camargo-Vemuri (🇨🇴 | 🇮🇳) (@camargovemuri) December 14, 2020
Even The View's Ana Navarro took aim at Epstein. "When I read this piece, I was like, 'Who is this Joseph Epstein? Who is this dude? Who is he other than a bloviating, misogynist, racist, homophobe?" she questioned on the December 14 airing.
Epstein was under fire after voicing his unpopular opinion in an essay he wrote about Biden.
"Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter," Epstein began his column. "Any chance you might drop the 'Dr.' before your name? 'Dr. Jill Biden' sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.' A wise man once said that no one should call himself 'Dr.' unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc."
On Sunday, December 13, Biden replied to the controversy in the classiest way possible, writing, “Together, we will build a word where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.”
Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.— Dr. Jill Biden (@DrBiden) December 14, 2020
Northwestern University, where Epstein lectured, issued a statement, saying, “Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views.” On the school’s website, Epstein’s page seemingly disappeared, journalist David Gura noted.