Last Friday I wrote about Kevin Williamson’s brief stint at the Atlantic. His hiring was announced March 22nd and he was fired on April 5th after a concerted social media campaign to oust him over his views on abortion. Specifically, people were outraged over an old tweet in which Williamson suggested (as a provocation, not a serious suggestion) that capital punishment was appropriate for women who had abortions. In reality, Williamson is against capital punishment so the idea that he would be for it in the case of abortion didn’t even make sense but, with the exception of Vox, no one who wrote about the controversy bothered to ask him what he actually believed.
After his article was published, a writer at New York Magazine did email him to ask. Today, Williamson describes how the exchange took place in a piece for the Weekly Standard:
Ed Kilgore, a dreary partisan dolt in the employ of New York magazine, thought he saw an opening, and sent me a one-question inquiry: “What is your ‘public policy recommendation’ on appropriate punishment for women having abortions in a hypothetical criminalized abortion regime?” As any reasonably intelligent person will immediately detect, that question isn’t actually a question; it is a rhetorical stratagem in the shape of a question, deployed for the purpose of lame partisan point-scoring in the form of blocks of texts shaped like journalism…
Williamson sent a two-paragraph response pointing out that Kilgore didn’t seem interested in explaining Williamson’s actual position. He wrote in part, “People on the pro-choice side seek to shift the conversation to the question of the specifics of criminal sanction for obvious and shallow rhetorical purposes—because that’s an easy way to whip up emotional hysteria, preempting meaningful discourse rather than enabling it.” When pressed, Williamson added, “I can’t believe that you are in fact unaware of my opposition to capital punishment.” In short, I don’t want to play your game and no I don’t really support capital punishment. Williamson writes:
That, in turn, gave New York magazine the opportunity to write the headline Kilgore wanted to write: “Kevin Williamson Won’t Tell Me What He Thinks Should Happen to Women Who Have Abortions.”
Kilgore’s piece concludes: “I’m guessing we’ll never know what Kevin Williamson thinks should happen to women who have abortions, unless Roe is reversed and he’s consulted by the legislature of Oklahoma.” See, I tried to get an answer out of this wingnut, but he wouldn’t give me one. But as Williamson points out, if New York Magazine was actually interested in his opinion they could have had it for free:
What you will not read about at New York magazine is the fact that I offered them a full account of my views on the subject, in the form of an essay on exactly how I think we should go about dealing with the legal prohibition of abortion. (In the interest of making this easier for New York magazine, I offered this at no charge, something I almost never do. “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” as Dr. Johnson observed.) Why take one or two sentences, filtered through the unreliable sensibility of a hostile columnist, when you could have the whole thing? Because, as New York editor Adam Moss told me, that is “as much on the subject of your views on this matter as we want to publish.”
And there you have it.
New York magazine, in the words of its own editor, prefers a truncated, incomplete account, which is of course easier to distort and to misrepresent. Whatever that is, it isn’t journalism.
They really weren’t interested in Williamson’s opinion, at least not if it might sound sensible and perhaps even [shudder] compelling. They just wanted to tell their audience what they wanted to hear.