“If the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence. Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else,” Kevin Williamson, freshly fired Atlantic columnist, stated in his 2014 National Review podcast.
He was, of course, referring to his now famous tweet that women who have had abortions should be hanged. He has said lots of other hate-filled racist, sexist and homophobic things, too. (They will not be repeated here.)
Before the podcast had resurfaced, The Atlantic's announcement that it was hiring Williamson to join its Ideas team late last month was met with outrage. Soon after the announcement, the political website Tiny Green Footballs unearthed deleted tweets that revealed Williamson’s hate-filled, extremist stances.
A week later, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg sent a letter to his staff, defending the outlet’s decision to hire Williamson, stating: ”I don’t think that taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice. I have read most, or much, of what he has written; some of his critics have not done the same. I would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change. I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting (third chances, too, on occasion), and I hope to continue this practice.”
Journalist and feminist writer Jessica Valenti wrote in response in a Medium post, “By hiring Williamson, The Atlantic is sending a clear message: That the worst kind of harassment and intimidation women face — extremism that has been directly linked to real-life violence — is acceptable.”
So yesterday, when The Atlantic announced the beleaguered columnist was fired just two weeks after his public appointment, it’s no wonder everyone from journalists to readers to organizations like the NARAL were expressing relief.
In a letter to staff Goldberg stated: “The language he used in this podcast—and in my conversations with him in recent days—made it clear that the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views. The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it. Furthermore, the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”
“Kevin is a gifted writer, and he has been nothing but professional in all of our interactions. But I have come to the conclusion that The Atlantic is not the best fit for his talents, and so we are parting ways.”
Despite Williamson being fired, Goldberg’s letter leaves a bit to be desired.
Many people who represent bigotry are “nothing but professional” in their interactions. Richard Spencer, an American white supremacist and president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, is no slouch when it comes to public speaking. That doesn’t mean his extremist views should be accepted in any arena.
While it is important for outlets to give voice to many opinions, showcasing the range of views in the U.S., publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times, which famously fired Quinn Norton, picked to become the paper’s lead opinion writer on tech, just six hours after hiring her, are giving a platform to extremists. But they refuse to shoulder the blame when the public fires back.
As the country becomes more polarized in its politics, there is absolutely no place for sexism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, transphobia, racism and homophobia in mainstream journalism.
Media leaders should take the lead in condemning hatred — not giving it voice.