Is Twitter a get-out-of-jail free card now?

The Atlantic magazine last month hired Kevin Williamson, formerly of the conservative National Review, as a columnist. I have long been aware of Williamson’s horrible views and was shocked that a supposedly liberal magazine would hire him but Goldberg has pretty conservative views too. For example, he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Iraq war.

This hiring caused an uproar because Williamson has said that most appalling things about women and blacks. One item that surfaced immediately was Williamson in a tweet calling for women who have abortions to be hanged for murder. But the editor Jeffrey Goldberg had a weird defense of his decision to hire Williamson despite that statement.

Upon first announcing Williamson’s hiring last month, The Atlantic faced enormous uproar over some of his more controversial bits of commentary. Critics pointed to one 2014 National Review column in which Williamson described an encounter with a young black boy using racially loaded terms like “three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg” and describing the boy as a “primate.”

And, perhaps more notoriously, Williamson suggested on his now-deleted Twitter account that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide. When asked for a specific punishment, he offered hanging.

Goldberg initially defended Williamson’s hiring, dismissing the fringe view as simply “extreme tweeting” for which he deserved a “second chance.” New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens echoed that defense, writing, “[F]or heaven’s sake, it was a tweet.”

However, on Wednesday, Media Matters for America revealed that Williamson’s deadly solution for women who’ve had abortions wasn’t just an aberrant tweet. In a 2014 podcast, the liberal watchdog found, Williamson repeatedly and forcefully defended his view that those women should be executed.

He described current methods of execution—like lethal injection—to be “too antiseptic” and suggested that the state administer more “violent” forms of capital punishment befitting the “violence” of an abortion.

But what is curious is the idea that what is said on Twitter is unimportant. Why is this? Is Twitter supposed to be some kind of safe house where you can say the most appalling things and not have to bear any consequences for them?

Williamson is one those conservatives who are opposed to Trump and thus are being given a pass these days by liberals who should know better. Others include Bill Kristol, Dvid Frum, Max Boot, and Andrew Sullivan. I want to make my point perfectly clear: JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE DOESN’T LIKE TRUMP DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEIR OTHER OBNOXIOUS VIEWS SHOULD BE EXCUSED.


  1. blf says

    ‘Hang women who have abortions’ is not a view that’s fit for public debate (Grauniad edits in {curly braces}):

    The Atlantic hired — and then fired — a writer whose views are beyond the pale. We can have ideologically diverse publications without sacrificing integrity

    On Thursday, the recently hired columnist Kevin Williamson was fired from the Atlantic after an uproar over his views on abortion — namely his belief, first mentioned in a 2014 tweet, that women who have the procedure should be executed by hanging.

    Initially, the editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, defended Williamson, writing in a memo to staff that he did not believe “taking a person’s worst tweets{…} in isolation is the best journalistic practice”. But after the release of a podcast in which Williamson talked at length about hanging women, the writer was fired, and Goldberg admitted “that the original tweet did, in fact, represent {Williamson’s} carefully considered views”.

    “The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it,” he wrote.

    That last quote from the editor suggests Williamson lied (presumably to the editor?), since it addition to the tweet there is the 2014 podcast. This point that he apparently lied is not discussed in the excerpted column.

    Expressing a belief in a tweet […] does not make that belief any less yours. That’s why I found it so odd when New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote an open letter to Williamson this weekend, apologizing to him over having his character “assassinated”.

    “I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry,” Stephens wrote.

    I wonder, on the scale of tweet to book, where podcast lies.

    I agree with Goldberg that a person’s worst tweets don’t sum up who they are. But there is a difference between “just a tweet” and a belief. What Williamson tweeted (and doubled down on many times over Twitter and the podcast) was not a bad joke or a even a cruel comment dashed off in anger. It was a political position — and the Atlantic had a decision to make over whether it believed that political position was within the norms of reasonable critical debate. Whether or not they wanted to expand their definition of acceptable discourse to include “hanging women”.


    The truth, of course, is that Williamson never should have been hired in the first place; the Atlantic and Goldberg knew about Williamson’s belief about executing women who had abortions and brought him on anyway. They knew they would be forcing the women at the magazine — some of whom we can assume have had abortions — to sit in an office with a man who wanted them dead.

    I understand the desire, especially now, to have ideologically diverse publications. But that can be done without sacrificing integrity. No one is entitled to column inches, and every day publications draw lines about what opinions they consider unworthy of publishing. Surely we can all agree that this particular line was an important enough one to uphold.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Interesting how Williamson’s sexism caused so much more uproar than his racism.

    One wonders how the blacks at the Atlantic’s office might feel about such a colleague -- then one wonders whether there are any.

  3. jrkrideau says

    or heaven’s sake, it was a tweet

    Err, how many people has the orange Cadet Bonespurs fired by Twitter?
    “Oh heck, secretary, it is only a tweet. Don’t worry about it”.

  4. Johnny Vector says

    Pierce R. Butler @2:

    One wonders how the blacks at the Atlantic’s office might feel about such a colleague – then one wonders whether there are any.

    Um. Without looking it up, I can name only one writer at The Atlantic. He’s one of the most well-known black columnists in the country. (Hint: rhymes with “wanna saucy quotes?”)

    And of course you can just look it up. It is indeed a mighty white masthead, but wondering about it while at your computer seems pretty pointless.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Johnny Vector @ # 4 -- I considered adding an allusion to Mr. Coates, but decided it would spoil the pacing and pithiness of my punchline.

    Besides T-N C probably has very little reason to set foot on the Atlantic‘s physical premises (or he most likely would’ve aborted the Williamson appointment before implantation).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *