It’s not quite one of Oprah’s favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, that would be “Show” in place of “Tell”, but it’s true enough.
Why Would the Atlantic Hire Kevin Williamson?
By Jordan Weissmann, Slate
March 27, 2018
Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg’s memo to staff:
I first came to know Kevin’s work several years ago; he’s incredibly prolific, and, over time, I have probably read a few hundred thousand of his words. I have disagreed with him more than I have agreed with him (an irrelevant metric when you’re the editor; not when you’re a reader), but I recognized the power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction of many of his pieces. I also found him to be ideologically interesting: anti-abortion, pro-gun rights, anti-death penalty (his anti-death penalty writing, of course, shaped my understanding of his most objectionable tweet). I was struck, as many people are, by the quality of his prose. I was also struck by the fact that many people I admire on the Left have expressed admiration for his writing on issues of race and class. Over the past couple of years, I’ve also read carefully his critical coverage of Donald Trump and the people who voted for him.
I was also aware of Kevin’s judgmental, acerbic, polemical style, and when we started talking about writing possibilities at The Atlantic, I raised my concerns about the trollish qualities of some of his writing and tweeting. A couple of months ago, in one of our conversations, I mentioned some of his more controversial tweets, and in the course of that conversation, he himself came to the conclusion that Twitter was a bad place for him to be, and he spiked his account. I took this to be a positive development and a sign of growth.
I don’t think anyone should try to defend Kevin’s most horrible tweet. I expect that Kevin will explain this tweet himself when he gets here. He will also have the opportunity to explain other controversial aspects of his writing. But I don’t think that taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice. I have read most, or much, of what he has written; some of his critics have not done the same. I would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change. I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting (third chances, too, on occasion), and I hope to continue this practice.
The larger question is this: What am I trying to accomplish by having Kevin write for us? The first answer is this: He’s an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively. I happen to think that conservatives made ideologically homeless by the rise of Trump are some of the most interesting people in America, and I want to read them whenever I can.
As our staff knows, because I go on about this ad nauseam, I take very seriously the idea that The Atlantic should be a big tent for ideas and argument. It is my mission to make sure that we outdo our industry in achieving gender equality and racial diversity. It is also my job is to make sure that we are ideologically diverse. Diversity in all its forms makes us better journalists; it also opens us up to new audiences. I would love to have an Ideas section filled with libertarians, socialists, anarcho-pacifists and theocons, in addition to mainstream liberals and conservatives, all arguing with each other. If we are going to host debates, we have to host people who actually disagree with, and sometimes offend, the other side. Kevin will help this cause.
Let me close with a statement of the obvious: Anyone who joins The Atlantic agrees to submit his or her writing to our skilled editors. Everyone here is compelled to follow our standards.
Jeffrey Goldberg knows that he hired a troll. But he thinks readers should give him a second chance.
The Atlantic editor in chief issued a memo to the magazine’s staff this week, explaining his decision to hire conservative writer Kevin Williamson as a columnist for the magazine’s new ideas section. In addition to making the thought leader’s now-familiar case for ideological diversity, Goldberg wrote that he likes to “give people second chances and the opportunity to change.” This is an odd justification for a terrible and high-profile hire at one of the country’s most venerable political magazines.
A longtime correspondent for the National Review, Williamson is, at his best, a right-wing provocateur who writes enjoyable, if slightly retro, prose. At his worst, he’s a verbose and hateful troll. Describing a 2014 visit to the impoverished city of East St. Louis, Illinois, Williamson compared a black child to a “primate” and a “three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg” before likening his own trip through Illinois to Marlow’s journey up the Congo River in Heart of Darkness, all within the space of a single paragraph. (He later denied, unconvincingly, that the three-fifths reference was a slavery joke.) In a column that same year about Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, Williamson compared trans people to voodoo doll worshippers. “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” he wrote. He accused Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew, of leading a “nationalist-socialist movement” in a too-cute-by-half bid for rage clicks. And perhaps most notoriously, he once opined on Twitter that women who had abortions should be hanged. “I believe abortion should be treated like any other premeditated homicide,” he later clarified, in case anybody doubted his sincerity. “I’m torn on capital punishment generally; but treating abortion as homicide means what it means.”
These are not views one would typically associate with the Atlantic, which has a long, unique history in American intellectual life that’s partly bound up with the advancement of civil rights— it was founded by abolitionists, published Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” and helped make Ta-Nehisi Coates a leading American voice on race.
Williamson is also a questionable choice to cover the forgotten corners of America that presumably backed Trump—given that he loathes them as much as he loathes the president. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die,” he wrote in one especially controversial piece. Above all else, Williamson is something fairly rare in U.S. media: an explicit, unrepentant elitist. As he tells it, his rough and financially deprived childhood in Texas taught him that the struggling American “underclass” is largely responsible for its own bad luck. Today, he worships high culture (he’s a former theater critic who once grabbed a woman’s cellphone and hurled it away when she wouldn’t stop talking during the performance) and rich, talented men. Williamson spent a whole column urging Mitt Romney to flaunt his wealth “like a boss” during his presidential run, suggesting that from “an evolutionary point of view” the Republican “should get 100 percent of the female vote” because of his pure, alpha-male magnetism. “We don’t do harems here, of course, but Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one,” Williamson added, tongue hopefully planted somewhere near his cheek. He views Trump—not incorrectly, or uniquely—as an ignorant, vulgar poseur who caters to the worst tendencies of white identity politics.
Which is why Goldberg’s appeal to intellectual diversity also rings a bit hollow. After all, the Atlantic doesn’t seem to be making any effort to hire pro-Trump writers, who would represent the views of approximately 40 percent of the American population. (You could say the same about Bennet’s opinion page at the Times.) That’s a justifiable choice—just try reading the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page these days—but it suggests that Goldberg has some intellectual red lines he isn’t willing to cross in the name of diversity, one of which happens to cordon off the entire contemporary Republican Party. Other editors might pick different red lines—like transphobia, or history of racial insensitivity—that would rule a writer like Williamson out. Goldberg is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in large part because he’s a conservative who opposes Trump, which makes him “interesting.”
Well, not so much any more.
The Atlantic splits with conservative writer over abortion comments
By MICHAEL CALDERONE, Politico
The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg said Thursday the magazine was “parting ways” with newly hired conservative writer Kevin Williamson after fresh evidence emerged that he had endorsed hanging women who get abortions.
Goldberg had initially defended hiring Williamson from National Review despite complaints about his previous writing, some of which critics said was racially insensitive or offensive to transgender people. Much of the criticism involved a 2014 tweet that suggested women who had abortions “should face capital punishment, namely hanging.”
On Wednesday, the liberal research group Media Matters unearthed a podcast in which Williamson expressed the same position.
“The language he used in this podcast — and in my conversations with [Williamson] in recent days — made it clear that the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered view,” Goldberg told staff in a Thursday memo.
“The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it,” Goldberg continued. “Furthermore, the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”
Goldberg described Williamson — who joined last month after a decade at National Review — as “a gifted writer.” But Goldberg said he came to the conclusion “that The Atlantic is not the best fit for his talents, and so we are parting ways.”
“We remain committed to grappling with complex moral issues in our journalism. Some of our colleagues are pro-life, and some are pro-choice; we have pro-death-penalty and anti-death-penalty writers; we have liberals and conservatives,” Goldberg wrote. “We obviously understood that Kevin himself is pro-life when we asked him to write for us. This is not about Kevin’s views on abortion.”
Despite Goldberg’s explanation, several prominent voices on the right interpreted the move as caving to liberal criticism and silencing conservatives.
“Kevin Williamson’s firing is a reminder that there are two Americas and one side will stop at nothing to silence the other,” said conservative radio host and writer Erick Erickson. “This is not about a bad tweet or a bad view. It is about the left wanting a monopoly on the public square so none can be exposed to competing ideas.”
The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher said The Atlantic “cutting [Williamson] loose under left-wing fire is deplorable,” while Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro called the decision “gutless garbage.”
I’ll stop briefly to point out that this is what Conservatives always say when you take away their God-given right to lecture Lefties from prominent media platforms for six figure salaries.
Progressive writers and organizations, however, cheered the decision. Shareblue’s Oliver Willis said the entire incident demonstrated “once again how the mainstream media bends over backwards for repugnant conservatism and it also gives conservatives another chance to play-act at being victims of the big liberal machine.”
Reproductive rights group NARAL tweeted that the magazine “should never have normalized Kevin Williamson’s lethal & chilling ideology or published his work,” but the group said it was “relieved” he was let go. Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of women’s group UltraViolet, which had gathered 25,000 signatures calling for Williamson to be fired, said while she was “pleased Williamson has been ousted, The Atlantic will not be able to wash this stain away.”
And feminist author Jessica Valenti, who was one of the leading critics of The Atlantic hiring Williamson, said she was “very relieved for the women who work at the magazine.”
The problem is not only are these editors implicitly endorsing the anti-scientific, racist, bigoted, misogynistic views of their hires but they are actively cultivating the idea that you are too stupid to understand their enlightened, elitist motivations.
Me? I think everyone is stupider than I am, usually with good reason. At least I’m not condescending about it (ok, I’m frequently condescending but at least I try to hide it. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue).
Now, about Bret Stephens and The New York Times…