As you may have heard by now, long-time National Review regular Kevin Williamson was hired last month and then almost immediately fired by the Atlantic. Today, in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Williamson describes how he predicted the outcome before it happened.
In early March, I met up with Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of the Atlantic, at an event sponsored by the magazine at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. He had just hired me away from National Review, the venerable conservative magazine where I’d been a writer and editor for 10 years.
“You know, the campaign to have me fired will begin 11 seconds after you announce that you’ve hired me,” I told him. He scoffed. “It won’t be that bad,” he said. “The Atlantic isn’t the New York Times. It isn’t high church for liberals.”
But Williamson was right. His hiring was announced on March 22nd. He was fired on April 5th. In between, he was the focus of left-wing attacks, especially on Twitter, demanding he be fired. Much of the heat focused on a comment he’d made years ago, intended as a provocation, about abortion:
The purported reason for our “parting ways,” as Mr. Goldberg put it in his announcement, had nothing to do with what I’d written in my inaugural piece. The problem was a six-word, four-year-old tweet on abortion and capital punishment and a discussion of that tweet in a subsequent podcast. I had responded to a familiar pro-abortion argument: that pro-lifers should not be taken seriously in our claim that abortion is the willful taking of an innocent human life unless we are ready to punish women who get abortions with long prison sentences. It’s a silly argument, so I responded with these words: “I have hanging more in mind.”
Trollish and hostile? I’ll cop to that, though as the subsequent conversation online and on the podcast indicated—to say nothing of the few million words of my published writing available to the reading public—I am generally opposed to capital punishment. I was making a point about the sloppy rhetoric of the abortion debate, not a public-policy recommendation.
Ed has already written a lengthy investigation of this point so I won’t belabor it again but there’s no evidence Williamson intended this seriously. He points out in his piece today that, with the exception of Vox, none of the people who wrote about his past comments on abortion bothered to contact him to find out what he meant. He was condemned in absentia over an ill-advised bit of snark. As Williamson points out, the left often portrays itself as David with the world stacked against them, but in reality, they often have the backing of Goliaths.
Which brings us back to that event at South by Southwest, where the Atlantic was sponsoring a panel about marginalized points of view and diversity in journalism. The panelists, all Atlantic writers and editors, argued that the cultural and economic decks are stacked against feminists and advocates of minority interests. They made this argument under the prestigious, high-profile auspices of South by Southwest and their own magazine, hosted by a feminist group called the Female Quotient, which enjoys the patronage of Google, PepsiCo, AT&T, NBCUniversal, Facebook, UBS, JPMorgan Chase and Deloitte. We should all be so marginalized. If you want to know who actually has the power in our society and who is actually marginalized, ask which ideas get you sponsorships from Google and Pepsi and which get you fired.
So when the left-wing Twitter mob came for Williamson, it was only a matter of days before Jeffrey Goldberg reversed course and fired him. Williamson says he pointed out to Goldberg that the Atlantic had previously published work by the far more controversial Christopher Hitchens who gave offense to all sides on various issues. Goldberg’s reply is classic: “Yes. But Hitchens was in the family. You are not.”
Williamson wasn’t fired because of what he wrote for the Atlantic (one piece) but for his potential to disrupt the left’s information bubble on their home turf. The Atlantic set out to offer a broader perspective and wound up proving many on the left aren’t interested in that. What the far left wants these days is conformity and, failing that, silence.