The WSJ Op-Ed Writer Slammed for Attacking Jill Biden Also Penned a Homophobic Essay Using the N-Word

Joseph Epstein—the writer currently facing backlash for a Wall Street Journal opinion piece suggesting Jill Biden should stop calling herself a doctor—has been criticized for publishing offensive content before. In 1970, Epstein authored a Harper's Magazine essay that used the n-word repeatedly and described non-heterosexual people as "cursed," adding, "I mean this quite literally." His words conflated racial slurs and homophobic language to ultimately argue that LGBTQ individuals were "afflicted without apparent cure."

"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. But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual," Epstein wrote in the essay's concluding paragraph.

His essay was denounced for its explicit homophobia shortly after its release. About one month later, in October 1970, members of the Gay Activists Alliance staged a sit-in demonstration at Harper's headquarters in midtown Manhattan to protest the magazine's decision to publish the piece, as well as its failure to issue an apology or subsequent essay countering Epstein's views. The following year, Merle Miller, a former Harper's editor, came out publicly in a lengthy personal essay for the New York Times Magazine that incorporated responses to Epstein.

Referencing a portion of Epstein's piece in Harper's, in which Epstein said he "would wish homosexuality off the face of this earth" if possible and added that his reaction "would not be simple" if a close friend were gay, Miller asked: "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 amended the homophobic and racist language that characterized his 1970 essay, nor did he address the public fallout until 2015. In an article penned for the Washington Examiner, titled "The Unassailable Virtue of Victims," he lamented "political correctness" and suggested it "squashed discussion and in many realms of public life replaced ethics" as voicing derogatory statements became more commonly unacceptable.

Epstein also seemed to defend the comments included in his Harper's piece, claiming "the chief points of [his] essay were that no one had a true understanding of the origins of human homosexuality."

The writer's name began to circulate online over the weekend, following the Wall Street Journal's release of his recent op-ed targeting President-elect Joe Biden's wife for calling herself a doctor. "Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic," Epstein wrote of the incoming first lady's use of the title, which she earned upon receiving a doctoral degree in education leadership from the University of Delaware.

Dr. Jill Biden, 2020 Election, Joe Biden
Joseph Epstein, the writer responsible for a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed suggesting Jill Biden stop calling herself a doctor, also faced backlash for a homophobic essay published in "Harper's Magazine" in 1970. Here, Biden speaks at a campaign rally in Pittsburgh on November 2. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Epstein's latest piece was met with widespread disapproval, as many—including Kamala Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff—pointed to the inherent sexism that informs the basis of its argument. The president-elect's communications director, Kate Bedingfield, called the article "patronizing, sexist, elitist drivel," while a spokesperson for the first lady-elect described it as "pretty gross." Northwestern University, where Epstein was an honorary lecturer, rejected the op-ed in an official statement and removed his profile from the institution's website.

On Saturday, Melissa Korn, a higher education reporter at The Wall Street Journal, decried Epstein's article and criticized her employer's decision to publish it.

"I cannot bring myself to include a link, because why give it more air? But that op-ed belittling Jill Biden, urging her to drop the Dr., mocking her research on community college, likening her degree to an honorary doctorate, is disgusting," Korn wrote on Twitter. "Pieces like that make it harder for me to do my job."

Newsweek reached out to The Wall Street Journal and the Biden-Harris transition team for comments but did not receive replies in time for publication.