Conservative firebrand Kevin Williamson was wronged by The Atlantic. He’s a known quantity, and they shouldn’t have hired him only to fire him days later. But let’s be clear: He did not lose that gig for his conservative views, as he claimed last week in a column for The Wall Street Journal. He was a poor fit for a mainstream magazine like The Atlantic because of his own rhetorical choices.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the provocative, bordering-on-obnoxious style Williamson has—that kind of writing can be fun!—and he has made an excellent career for himself in the conservative media. But by repeatedly stepping over the line of acceptable mainstream discourse, he’s effectively disqualified himself from a cushy sinecure at a mainstream publication. He has nobody to blame but himself.
Make no mistake: Conservatives are well represented in the mainstream press. Slate’s Osita Nwanevu tallied 18 of them on the opinion pages of The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The New York Times alone. One of Williamson’s former colleagues at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg, wrote a shoddy, ahistoric book calling liberals fascists, but it didn’t disqualify him from becoming a regular columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
What Williamson portrays as his big thought-crime was a series of comments—on Twitter and a conservative radio show—advocating hanging women who get an abortion. In his Wall Street Journal column, he wrote that asking anti-choicers to take the assertion that abortion is murder to a logical conclusion is “a silly argument.” So when the question came up, he says, rather than address it in a serious way, he responded that he had “hanging in mind.” But he continued to double down on it. Williamson freely acknowledges that this was “trollish and hostile,” but he won’t take any responsibility for the consequences of acting like a hostile troll. (Williamson also writes that people who accused him of wanting to lynch a quarter of adult American women are guilty of intellectual dishonesty, but as New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore discovered last week, he still refuses to say what kind of punishment should be meted out to women who have abortions if the procedure is criminalized. Williamson followed that up with a column in The Washington Post titled “The Punishment I Favor for Abortion,” in which he once again refused to answer that question.)