After 14 days, one column, and a few damning resurfaced podcast clips calling for the mass lynching of women who terminate their pregnancies, The Atlantic has decided to abort Kevin D. Williamson’s contract.
The professional abortion came after people more vigilant than the decision makers at The Atlantic discovered that (among other things) Williamson’s (perfectly public) views on the procedure of abortion were so very pro-life that he thinks all women who have them should be executed.
Abortion should be treated “like any other homicide,” Williamson tweeted, said, and reiterated. Therefore, he continued, the punishment for abortion, just like any other homicide, should be hanging, a method no state in fact uses for capital punishment. (Maybe abortion should be more like robbing a stagecoach in the 1800’s.)
This wasn’t a nutty thing Williamson said once to own the libs. This is something he repeated on Twitter and said aloud on a podcast. It’s something he actually thinks.
Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg had initially defended some of Williamson’s comments as silly tweeting, and insisted that Williamson’s voice has a place in the discourse. The New York Times’ Bret Stephens continued his streak of being almost comically wrong by devoting an entire column to calling on Williamson’s detractors to relax. Today, Goldberg says that actually talking to Williamson has revealed to him that Williamson actually believe the things he’d publicly and repeatedly said about how millions of women should be hanged.
This entire affair is unfortunate. Williamson and I disagree on almost everything, but I’ve enjoyed some of his work at National Review, his longtime professional home. He’s often a dextrous thinker, a compelling writer. He’s sometimes funny. I still think about and reference one column of his from last October on at least a weekly basis. The problem is that Williamson is fearless in the way that male political commentators who fancy themselves provocateurs are fearless, which is to say: a figure whose bouts of recklessness threaten any goodwill his moments of actual bravery garner.
And recklessness followed by rigidity, with a dash of heartlessness, is what got us here. Dick-arus flew too close to the sun.
It’s not completely Williamson’s fault. From the moment Williamson was hired in late March, critics were quick to point out that Williamson has said some wild nonsense in the past, about black people, about trans people, about women. Those warnings should have prompted the powers that be at The Atlantic to move quickly to at least look into some of his comments and assess whether they wanted him to be a part of their brand. Perhaps use Google to dig into the contexts of those comments. Perhaps listen to some podcasts.
Everybody involved in this should be embarrassed. Williamson should be embarrassed because getting fired is embarrassing. He should also be embarrassed by the fact that he has no idea how common abortion is and has been throughout history. He should be embarrassed by the insanity of his incongruent beliefs that murder is bad, abortion is murder, ergo in order to end abortion, the state should murder the women who have abortions, thus leading to the end of that one particular kind of murder (not the kind the state was doing to fix all the other murders).
The Atlantic should be embarrassed that those with hiring power were so horny for buzz that they evidently forgot how to use Google for two weeks. They should be embarrassed that they brought on a controversial writer without knowing all that much about him, and that they weren’t prepared to defend that writer when other people brought up the ways in which he is controversial. They should have known better.
That’s all taking The Atlantic editors at their word about their ignorance. The other option, of course—that they did know about this and still thought it made sense to bring Williamson on—is even worse.
Offending people from time to time shouldn’t disqualify a person from having a job, and publications should seek to include challenging views, lest they all serve up similar versions of flavorless opinion gruel. Lord knows political discourse would be even more of a hellscape if every magazine and publication only ran pieces that represent views deemed publicly palatable by a majority of Twitter.
But calling for mass execution of women, and then doubling down on that a bunch, is not something that belongs anywhere in the mainstream.
It’s insane that I had to type that.