After The Atlantic announced last week that they had made a number of staffing changes, one in particular has sparked a massive outcry: hiring writer Kevin Williamson. Williamson, who had previously worked at the National Review, is just the latest in a string of conservative writers hired by center-left publications in some sort of frantic quest for ideological diversity in the wake of Trump’s election. But very quickly, people began to point out that Williamson had previously espoused exceptionally hateful, reactionary viewpoints — including the belief that women who get abortions should be hanged.
Here’s what to know about how the situation’s been unfolding.
So what are some of Williamson’s words that have been called into question?
Well, besides the abortion thing — which would apply to one in four women in the United States — let’s see. He compared a 9-year-old black child to a “primate” in the lede of a 2014 story. That same year, in an anti-trans essay titled “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman,” he wrote, “regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman.”
Yeah, exactly. Otherwise, it appears as if he’s managed to get this gig by positioning himself as a “Never Trump” conservative — you know, those guys who agree with Trump on 95 percent of his platform but clutch their pearls when it comes to how he presents himself.
What has the reaction been?
Liberal voices have strongly criticized The Atlantic for the choice, while conservatives have used it as an example of how the “mainstream media” isn’t open to voices of their ilk. Feminist writer Jessica Valenti published a Medium post explaining why the hire was so upsetting, writing:
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. And that it’s more valuable to the magazine than the women who read it or work at there.
How has Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg responded to the controversy?
Slate published a memo sent by Goldberg to his staff in which he says that he was deeply familiar with Williamson’s work and chose to hire him anyway. “It is my mission to make sure that we outdo our industry in achieving gender equality and racial diversity,” he explains in it. “It is also my job is to make sure that we are ideologically diverse.”
“I would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change,” Goldberg also writes, of a man who wrote some of his most damning opinions four years ago, at the tender age of 41.