Shortly after announcing that they were bringing on conservative writer Kevin Williamson, The Atlantic is now “parting ways” with their controversial new hire.
There was public outcry immediately after Williamson was brought on, much of it stemming from a tweet he sent out in 2014 stating that women who have abortions should be executed by hanging. That same year, he also compared a black child to a “primate” in a 2014 story and wrote a vehemently anti-transgender polemic. Writer Jessica Valenti in particular was instrumental in drawing attention to his previous work and how his female colleagues might feel about the choice to hire him.
But the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, defended Williamson in an email circulated to his staff, emphasizing the need for an “ideologically diverse” magazine. He also urged them to look past “a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation.” Then, Media Matters extensively dug into his previous work — and found even more damning material.
For instance, during a 2011 TV appearance, Williamson called Mexican immigrants “peasants” who “aren’t really contributing a great deal.” During another, he said, “we’re probably waterboarding people somewhere. I certainly hope so.” And, proving that his tweet did not exist in isolation, Media Matters discovered that he also discussed hanging women who’ve had abortions on his podcast, saying he has “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment.”
This appears to have caused Goldberg to change course, and he informed his staff of the change in an email sent around on Thursday. “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,” he wrote. “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.”
He added that, “Kevin is a gifted writer, and he has been nothing but professional in all of our interactions.”
“I am just glad that the women who work at The Atlantic — statistically many of whom have likely had abortions — don’t have to work with someone who thinks they should be executed,” Valenti told the Cut. “I’m sure in the wake of this we’re going to see arguments that claim Williamson was wronged, or that the left cannot abide disagreement. But publications can strive for ideological diversity without giving up their integrity or broadening the parameters of debate so wide that ‘killing women’ becomes part of acceptable political discourse.”
*This post has been updated with comments from Valenti.