Should Anti-Feminist and Writer Kevin D. Williamson Have Been Fired from The Atlantic?
The big media news of last week was the very public firing of Kevin D. Williamson, formerly The Atlantic. Williamson, a right-wing firebrand, was hired as part of The Atlantic’s expansion to be, in essence, a right-wing firebrand. His incendiary prose was decried by the left immediately, but Jonah Goldberg, editor at The Atlantic held fast to his decision. Turbulence arrived when Williamson called for the hanging of women who have had abortions. Conservative thinkers rallied to his defense – conservatives fall into line when one of their own is under attack from the left -- even as liberal talking heads attacked his ascent onto The Atlantic masthead then promptly doubled down once the execution writings had become unearthed. But the fallout was too much, even some reasonable right-wingers joined the left, and eventually Jonah Goldberg folded like a lawn chair in a high wind.
And now, both liberals and conservatives are lamenting: does the Williamson firing mean a diminishing of free speech rights or right-wingers? And, as a result, will right-wingers keep establishing alternate media organizations like Breitbart and Fox News? And finally, are we headed towards two separate and unequally factual media bubbles?
Media critic Jack Schaefer comments:
Since the rise of Donald Trump, Williamson has emerged as maybe the most eloquent and forceful internal critic of that part of the white working class that went for Trump. He’s a blue-collar Texan who regularly lets his fellow blue-collar white people have it for their moral failures, for their embrace of a strongman, for letting the “American values” they purport to stand for decay into a swamp of self-pity and conspiracy-mongering. He has become the center-left’s favorite righty firebrand, and it’s not hard to see why Goldberg wanted him aboard. But once you get beyond the anti-Trumpism, he also holds a lot of social positions the center-left loathes, and he’s ferociously good at articulating them. He’s the kind of writer comfortable liberals ignore at their peril.
That conservatives have lost faith in the media has been exposed fully by Trump in his unexpected victory. But Trump wasn’t the first Presidential candidate to do this. Conservative anti-media sentiment has been brewing since the 1950s, when people Bill Buckley and Henry Regenry created alternative right-leaning magazines and publishing houses. Recent Republican Presidential candidates like John McCain and even Bush the Younger both drummed up anti-mainstream media sentiment against their Democratic party opponents in red-states to momentary political advantage. Even George Bush the Elder – a patrician Yalie and former internationalist US Ambassador to the United Nations – manufactured beef with Dan Rather, whipping up his right-wingers into a frenzy, Fox News, as well, is a ratings juggernaut with a formula.
This raises the question: should Kevin Williamson have been fired in the first place? The automatic response is: Yes. Calling for the hanging of women, even on Twitter, for reasons related to personal decisions regarding their bodies is not just anti-democratic, it is tyrannical, and no magazine would want to be associated with that sort of sentiment. Williamson, further, is a thoroughly unlikeable man to anyone of a socially progressive bent, and even to many of his fellow travelers on the right side of the spectrum. He believes any kind of accommodation to feminists, to people of color, is the beginning of the end of Western Civilization. Williamson has argued against the mainstreaming of transgender rights. And he is proudly, virulently anti-feminist. “Feminism has nothing to do with the proposition that women should be considered whole and complete members of the body politic, though it has enjoyed great success marketing itself that way,” he wrote for National Review in 2004. “A useful definition is this: ‘Feminism is the words ‘I Want!’ in the mouths of three or more women, provided they’re the right kind of women.”
Still, as disturbing and deeply offensive and off-putting as his ideas are, Kevin D. Williamson is very articulate and forceful in his opining. And in the age of Trump, whose victory, by the way, blindsided the left-of-center beltway mainstream media circuit, perhaps we ought to have more voices like that? No matter how disquieting those voices are, perhaps we should steer, post-Trump, towards a more intellectually diverse set of pundits and ideas? Are we being too hard on Kevin D. Williamson? Is his unlikeability a dealbreaker? Should his voice be banished from the all mainstream media, not just The Atlantic? Is this already happening? Should it? Will there be more right-wing voices expunged from the papers and magazines on record? Doesn’t that just lead to a continued formation of alternative news organizations and ultimately two nations: Separate and bound to stay that way?
As much as I question the ideas within the writings of Kevin Williamson, I have to admit that he is a good writer, perhaps the most articulate explainers of the Trump phenomenon out there. He also was a part of the “Never Trump” movement, which gives him a certain amount of political legitimacy and distance from the dysfunctional calque, at present, governing us from the capital. But does that mitigate the hideous things Williamson has said? Not at all.