OPINION: The Atlantic's Loss Of Williamson Is No Tragedy
Jo Nordhoff-Beard | April 13, 2018, 2:01 a.m.
The Atlantic came to their senses and fired Kevin Williamson on April 4 because of new information that surfaced about his podcast and 2014 controversial tweets on abortion. It is still unacceptable and antithetical to the publication’s values that he was hired in the first place.
If this current trajectory of fetishizing #NeverTrump conservatives continues as President Donald Trump goes even further into the deep end of presidential doom, more and more “Shitty Men in Media” are going to be undeservedly forgiven for prior offenses regardless of their level of contrition. Then, when they lose their jobs, they will be treated as if a head of state has died.
Media Matters for America, a liberal organization dedicated to analyzing the reliability of American conservative news commentary, investigated Williamson’s controversial tweets about abortion and revealed that his views were much more than just simple tweets. In a podcast, Williamson said, “I am absolutely willing to to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code. … I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, issued another memo when firing Williamson and said, “The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat of the moment post, as Kevin had explained it." Goldberg became editor-in-chief in 2016, worked for The Atlantic for nine years prior, and has won many awards for his foreign policy coverage.
At first, it is hard to believe that Goldberg could be convinced by a man who has documented reprehensible views on women, people of color, transgender people, and poor people, but Williamson’s prestige as a prominent conservative writer carries more weight than his beliefs.
In the social media age, one can say whatever one wants to say in 280 characters, and it will be on the internet forever. Goldberg’s perception that Williamson’s tweet was not something written in the “heat of the moment” does not place sufficient blame on Williamson. Even if the tweet was written speedily, Williamson did feel that he should send it out at that moment and represent himself to other people.
In tweets, as in conversation, people do not always think about the effects of what they say beforehand. The fact that this statement was taken out of context should not be a more acceptable excuse because it is a tweet.
As time marches on and the volume of people’s social media feeds increase, liberal publications will continue to hire people like Williamson because they want to “expand their audiences” and “be ideologically diverse.” Said publications will not thoroughly vet their writers’ feeds because of the amount of information to sort through and the question of what can be overlooked.
Goldberg’s statement and his use of the phrase “parted ways” martyrs Williamson and makes his firing seem less serious than it should be perceived. It trivializes his tweets and the significance of hiring a writer at a publication such as The Atlantic.
Immediately, The New York Times opinions columnist Bret Stephens opined that because Williamson’s views on an abortion were in a tweet, not a book, that made it not as grave of a position to hold and paraphrased a quote from Jesus in the tweet that accompanied his article. (Keep in mind that Bret Stephens also wrote that Woody Allen is unjustly accused of rape and child molestation, despite major evidence to the contrary.)
Other conservative pundits spoke about Williamson as if he had died, when in reality he had just lost a job at a prominent liberal magazine, which is neither the end of the world nor a situation as extreme as death. Since Williamson is one of the first and most extreme conservative writers for this to happen to, other conservative writers have evaluated this debacle as a notable loss to America’s moral fabric.
In the #MeToo era, after a story surfaced about a man who has allegedly sexually assaulted women, those men are often treated in the same way that Williamson has been. A misogynistic tweet matters just as much as a man’s built up history of sexual assault, and thus should be evaluated with the same level of critical skepticism and distrust. Tweets are microcosms of what people believe, and to think otherwise discounts the value of social media and its ability to amplify voices or spread information quickly.
Jo Nordhoff-Beard SC ’19 is an English major from Seattle. She misses The Hills, loves avocados, and once wanted to be a YouTube star.