A brief note on NRO’s personnel decisions
posted at 8:41 am on April 9, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Over the Easter weekend, as I was finishing up my vacation, National Review terminated longtime contributor John Derbyshire over a column he wrote for Taki Magazine that was breathtakingly offensive and, as fellow NRO contributor Jonah Goldberg tweeted, indefensible. I only read the column late on Saturday afternoon after Rich Lowry had already announced Derbyshire’s termination, and assumed it was a badly-handled attempt at satire until it got to point 11 of Derbyshire’s version of “the talk,” which baldly asserted that blacks are intellectual inferiors to whites as a group. The entire piece as a whole demonstrated an almost unhinged hostility towards blacks, and it’s not surprising that NR would want to disassociate themselves from Derbyshire after the mask slipped.
Other writers were interested in engaging this topic over the weekend. Matt Lewis, for instance, called for a shunning of Derbyshire on the Right:
Derbyshire’s screed (which was actually written at Taki’s Magazine) is, of course, incredibly harmful to conservatism because it reinforces a bogus stereotype that conservatives are inherently racist.
In one fell swoop (actually, Derbyshire has a history of flirting with this sort of thing, but it has finally caught up with him), he has done more harm to the conservative cause than any liberal ever could.
Too often, conservatives reflexively defend anyone attacked by the left, presumably based on the logic that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I’m happy to see his colleagues are instead standing on principle.
Rick Moran at American Thinker argued that Derbyshire shouldn’t be fired, but should learn a lesson from the criticism:
Should he be fired? Derbyshire makes his living trying to be provocative. But if you were to fire him, you’d have to fire every liberal and conservative columnist who ever wrote something insensitive toward this group or that. It’s an occupational hazard for a Derbyshire, or a Krugman to give offense — even where none was intended. Unless you are Thomas Friedman, whose only offense appears to be an obliviousness to reality, columnists will step in it every once and a while.
The torrent of criticism directed toward Derbyshire is well deserved. Rather than fire him, let us hope that the criticism chastens him and teaches him a lesson in humility, if not empathy and understanding.
John Hinderaker’s post-termination reaction notes the long record Derbyshire had already accumulated along these lines, and wondered how Derbyshire lasted this long at NRO. That history — which goes back at least to 2003, as John cites — almost certainly played a part in Lowry’s decision to end the relationship between NR and Derbyshire. Although the column didn’t appear in NR or NRO, Lowry understands that Derbyshire’s work elsewhere reflects on the publication, and as a managing editor, that is his primary concern.
Some on Twitter claimed that Lowry had attacked Derbyshire’s right to free speech, which is ludicrous. Derbyshire is still free to write and speak his mind, but NR is under no obligation to publish him. The First Amendment protects people from government infringement on speech, not from the normal editorial judgment in private-sector publication. Barring the existence of contractual obligations, Lowry and NR have every right to choose whom to publish and why. In this case, Lowry acted correctly to protect NR from further reputational damage.
Finally, we received a torrent of e-mail over the last 36 hours wondering why we hadn’t weighed in on the subject, which has us a little bemused. We have barely mentioned Derbyshire at all over the four-plus years I’ve been at Hot Air, only five times — and only twice to quote anything he actually wrote, the other three being hat-tips on links. I’m a little non-plussed as to how our delay on Derbyshire was significant in any way whatsoever. If a few readers thought a personnel change at NR was so important that it necessitated taking time from our families over the Easter weekend, I’d say that those readers need to adjust their priorities a bit going forward.