Word of Williamson’s hiring was greeted by some as if by mercenary opposition researchers determined to isolate the most outlying and offensive thoughts that he ever uttered, no matter how marginal to his years of journalistic work; to gleefully amplify them, sometimes in highly distorting ways, in a manner designed to stoke maximum upset and revulsion; and to frame them as if they said everything one needed to know about his character. To render him toxic was their purpose.

That mode was poison when reserved for cabinet nominees; it is poison when applied to journalistic hires; and it will be poison if, next week or year, it comes for you.

Insofar as opinion journalists indulged in it, the mode is also a professional failure. The best illustration of why that is so requires reading a 2015 post by Williamson where he reflects on his “unplanned” conception by parents who chose to give him up for adoption. “It is not as though I do not sympathize with women who feel that they are not ready for a child,” he wrote. And later, he added, “It is impossible for me to know whether the woman who gave birth to me would have chosen abortion if that had been a more readily available alternative in 1972. I would not bet my life, neither the good nor the bad parts of it, on her not choosing it.”