On Thursday, reports surfaced that writer Kevin Williamson, who had been hired on March 22 at The Atlantic by editor Jeffrey Goldberg, had been fired.
A giant brouhaha had erupted after Williamson’s hiring, as leftists roundly condemned Williamson for his views. The list of those on the Left who condemned The Atlantic read like a Who’s Who of current leftist bastions: Media Matters, Salon, Slate, the Observer, Jezebel, to name a few.
Williamson had said that abortion should be treated as homicide and said transgenders should be referred to on the basis of their biological sex, among other violations of the leftist catechism, for which he was pilloried.
After hiring Williamson and the blowback after, Goldberg defended the hiring in a memo to his staff in which he wrote:
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 …
The larger question is this: What am I trying to accomplish by having Kevin write for us? The first answer is this: He’s an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively. I happen to think that conservatives made ideologically homeless by the rise of Trump are some of the most interesting people in America, and I want to read them whenever I can.
That stoicism in the face of leftist fury apparently didn’t last long. Here was Goldberg’s memo to his staff regarding his firing of Williamson:
Last week, I wrote you about our decision to hire Kevin Williamson. In that note, I mentioned my belief that Kevin would represent an important addition to our roster of ideas columnists, and I addressed the controversy surrounding some of his past tweeting and writing. I expressed my belief that no one’s life work should be judged by an intemperate tweet, and that such an episode should not necessarily stop someone from having a fruitful career at The Atlantic.
Late yesterday afternoon, information came to our attention that has caused us to reconsider this relationship. Specifically, the subject of one of Kevin’s most controversial tweets was also a centerpiece of a podcast discussion in which Kevin explained his views on the subject of the death penalty and abortion. 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.
We remain committed to grappling with complex moral issues in our journalism. Some of our colleagues are pro-life, and some are pro-choice; we have pro-death -penalty and anti-death-penalty writers; we have liberals and conservatives. WE obviously understood that Kevin himself is pro-life when we asked him to write for us. This is not about Kevin’s views on abortion.
We are striving here to be a big-tent journalism organization at a time of national fracturing. We will continue to build a newsroom that is, as The Atlantic’s founding manifesto states, “of no party or clique.” We are also an organization that values a spirit of generosity and collegiality. We must strive to uphold that standard as well.
Some reactions to the firing: