Kevin Williamson at the 2017 National Review Institute Ideas Summit.
Photo Credit: National Review

I was a regular reader of Kevin D. Williamson when he wrote at The National Review. I did not always agree with what he had to say, we had some back and forth on Twitter, but Williamson is an excellent writer, provocateur, and he pushed me out of my comfort zone and got me to think.

I appreciate writers like that. We need more writers like that.

He can be caustic. He can be blunt. His writing style is not mine, but he is supremely talented.

That’s why The Atlantic said they hired him. While that publication leans left, I was encouraged that they hired someone of Williamson’s caliber. They seemed to be serious about the marketplace of ideas by being inclusive of a different voice.

Now, I understand some publications identify on the left (Huffington Post, Slate, Talking Points Memo, Think Progress ,) and some publications identify on the right (National Review, Weekly Standard, Townhall and us here at Caffeinated Thoughts). I expect that publications that identify that way will not hire people with an ideology that contradicts the one they espouse. I get that.

That wasn’t the case with The Atlantic, or so I thought. Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, in an internal memo to staff defended hiring Williamson:

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.

That is great. He hired him for his talent, his ability, and perspective that would, potentially, expand The Atlantic’s readership.

The left went ballistic, and Goldberg caved when Williamson spouted the belief that women who have abortions should be subject to capital punishment by hanging on a podcast.

I disagree with Williamson’s position. I think politically, and culturally,  it’s an untenable position (I struggle with capital punishment in general). That said, I understand Williamson’s logic even though I disagree.

Most pro-lifers believe that abortion is murder because it is. It is the premeditated killing of innocent life. In some states, murder convictions are subject to a death sentence (and it was not all that long ago some states still hung people).

While most pro-lifers consider abortion to be murder, most do not believe in punishing women who have them. You never see any legislation (successful legislation anyway) that punishes women. Abortionists are always the target.

Some said Williamson advocated for lynching. No, that is a mob mentality, he believes in the use of capital punishment after the appropriate due process. Some said he supports the murder of these women. Again, capital punishment is not murder; it is the state’s legal and constitutional response to murder after a fair trial.

Again, I disagree with his position, but far too many people mischaracterized it.

Goldberg after the podcast was released fired Williamson for, essentially, believing what he said he believed. He sent this email to this staff today:

Last week, I wrote you about our decision to hire Kevin Williamson. In that note, I mentioned my belief that Kevin would represent an important addition to our roster of ideas columnists, and I addressed the controversy surrounding some of his past tweeting and writing. I expressed my belief that no one’s life work should be judged by an intemperate tweet, and that such an episode should not necessarily stop someone from having a fruitful career at The Atlantic.

Late yesterday afternoon, information came to our attention that has caused us to reconsider this relationship. Specifically, the subject of one of Kevin’s most controversial tweets was also a centerpiece of a podcast discussion in which Kevin explained his views on the subject of the death penalty and abortion. The language he used in this podcast—and in my conversations with him in recent days—made it clear that the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views. The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it. 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.

Kevin is a gifted writer, and he has been nothing but professional in all of our interactions. But I have come 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. 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.

We are striving here to be a big-tent journalism organization at a time of national fracturing. We will continue to build a newsroom that is, as The Atlantic’s founding manifesto states, “of no party or clique.” We are also an organization that values a spirit of generosity and collegiality. We must strive to uphold that standard as well.

The Atlantic is free to hire or fire whom they please. One’s ideology is not a protected class and Goldberg caved to the bullying by the left.

Let’s consider someone else in The Atlantic‘s employ: Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Michiko Kakutani in a New York Times review of Coates book, Between The World and Me, points out a provocative passage:

There is a Manichaean tone to some of the passages in this book, and at times, a hazardous tendency to generalize. After Sept. 11, he writes that he could “see no difference between the officer” who had gunned down his Howard University schoolmate Prince Jones a year earlier — firing 16 shots at the unarmed young man, who was on his way to visit his fiancée — and the police and firefighters who lost their own lives in the terrorist attacks: “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.”

What an outrageous thing to say about law enforcement? They are not human? Even the 9-11 responders?

He may believe that, but I for one don’t think The Atlantic should fire him for it.

In light of the Ferguson riots, he wrote at The Atlantic (not his personal Twitter account or some podcast, but for the publication that just fired Williamson):

What clearly cannot be said is that American society’s affection for nonviolence is notional. What cannot be said is that American society’s admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. increases with distance, that the movement he led was bugged, smeared, harassed, and attacked by the same country that now celebrates him. King had the courage to condemn not merely the violence of blacks, nor the violence of the Klan, but the violence of the American state itself.

What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works. “Property damage and looting impede social progress,” Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. They describe everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining.

“Property damage and looting”—perhaps more than nonviolence—has also been a significant tool in black “social progress.” In 1851, when Shadrach Minkins was snatched off the streets of Boston under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Law, abolitionists “stormed the courtroom” and “overpowered the federal guards” to set Minkins free. That same year, when slaveholders came to Christiana, Pennsylvania, to reclaim their property under the same law, they were not greeted with prayer and hymnals but with gunfire.

“Property damage and looting” is a fairly accurate description of the emancipation of black people in 1865, who only five years earlier constituted some $4 billion in property. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968—the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books—is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed.

That’s pretty provocative and yet Coates still works at The Atlantic. I disagree with Coates, but he offers a different perspective, he challenges my thinking, and his writing pushes me out of my comfortable, ideological silo.

It’s unfortunate that Williamson’s critics could not think the same of him.

Williamson’s firing is an example of the left silencing those with whom they disagree. If he is “too extreme,” what influential conservative voice out there do they believe isn’t?

They talk about his callous and violent speech, but the left cheers on those who vigorously support the taking of innocent life in the womb up to the moment of their birth. That isn’t callous? That isn’t violent?

I was called “a so-called man” today because I defined Williamson’s position as an opinion. Apparently, I need to twist the English language in order to be acceptable to some on the left.

While I disagree with Williamson’s position on women who have abortions; I am disturbed that he was fired for it. He is, after all, an opinion columnist. And so continues the Left’s march to shut any conservative voice out of mainstream publications.

If you don’t like Williamson’s speech, then combat it with speech of your own. But who wants that when you can just shout the competition out, and bully them off the platform?

If the censorship mob has its way,  conservatives will not be allowed to have a platform unless it is one of their own making with advertisers who can withstand the bullying tactics of the left. This is absolutely shameful and it’s not even remotely American.

1 comment
  1. I’ve always admired Williamson’s writing in NRO and was sorry to see him leave. I don’t recall him ever expressing a position on life issues, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he were pro-abortion, given his libertarian bent generally. If that is the case, then in the podcast (which I haven’t heard) he was probably attacking pro-lifers for being inconsistent in supporting measures to punish abortionists but not the mothers. In any event, it is apparent that the left can get away with all kinds of extreme rhetoric but conservatives can’t. It will be interesting to see if the Atlantic tries to hire another conservative and if NRO will take Williamson back (assuming he wants to come back).

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