I have a dark confession to make. I like Kevin D. Williamson.
Dude is like Wolverine, he’s the best there is at what he does. I don’t always agree with him or even close to it, but I have never clicked away from one of his essays without thinking about something in a brand new way, entertaining notions that are foreign and even a little bit painful to contemplate. Even when he’s dead wrong, even when I disagree with him to the verge of coronary thrombosis, my brain is forced to assume positions it would never take on its own – and I love it. Thinking about things I think I have all figured out from a new angle feels like working out to me. It may hurt when my carefully-considered beliefs are shredded, but when I put it all back together again, I’m stronger for the experience.
Sometimes (many times) Williamson’s compulsion to prod vigorously at the forbidden buttons manifests itself in an unpleasant, offensive way, and we’ve seen several examples https://newrepublic.com/article/147667/conservative-columnist-conundrum of that recently. But the role of iconoclast requires the tearing down of things that other people prefer intact. It requires a willingness to challenge conclusions that other people consider foregone. If Kevin Williamson always toed the line and simply retyped that old script we’ve read 1000 times before, he wouldn’t be nearly as effective at provoking thought.
He may be gross and wrong (some times) but least he’s putting it out there, lumps and all, without equivocation, without pulling his punches and mincing his words. I admire him for that. Kevin Williamson embodies something very rare – the person willing to lay it on the line and say with complete honesty “this is what I think, take it or leave it.”
Well, the Atlantic has apparently decided to leave it, instead. He’s been fired after one piece https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/04/defused/556934/
I think it’s a shame. I find it an unfortunate reflection upon us as a culture, that some find it acceptable for gangs of roving online busybodies to intimidate independent organizations into firing people. I find it a discouraging statement upon the condition of liberalism – having a man fired for his political opinions is utterly illiberal and it’s even more utterlier illiberal when the man in question is a journalist. And I find it downright disheartening because of what it says about overall health of journalism itself, that any self-described journalist like Jessica Valenti (who led the charge against Williamson) and other writers would form a mob to go after one of their fellows.
The worst part of it is, it’s all just so pointless. There is no valid reason to get Kevin Williamson fired. He said some reprehensible things. Yep indeedy-do.
If the Jessica Valentis of the world are correct and Kevin Williamson is little more than a troll and a troglodyte, then what? Worst case scenario? If he keeps his job, where’s the threat? If he’s just a neckbearded creep (his neck IS rather spectacularly bearded) who has nothing of value to add to the debate, why go after him so hard? Why betray the fundamental principles that underlie both liberalism and journalism over a guy who is no more than a pot-stirrer? Why not bide your time and let him fall flat on his face?
Because he will screw up eventually, they always do. Let him make an Eichenwaldian ass of himself on social media, let him write unsavory pieces full of hyperbole that no one takes seriously until he is fired for cause, actual cause, and is replaced with someone more palatable. It makes far more sense to simply get out of the way and let him fail spectacularly all on his own, than to churn up this huge brouhaha that garners Mr. Kevin D. Williamson more media exposure than he’s ever had in his life while simultaneously proving the worst stereotypes about the “liberal” media true.
I suspect what is really going on is a little more like this – Kevin Williamson is an excellent writer. Even Ta-Nahesi Coates said so http://thefederalist.com/2018/03/28/ta-nehisi-coates-gives-atlantic-hire-kevin-williamson-props-for-writing/ Maybe he’s just a little TOO good. A little too persuasive. A little too thoughtful. I think Williamson is the type of conservative that many on the left hate – a smart one. They’re much more comfortable with conservatives as old fuddyduddy bow-tie-wearers out of touch with the modern world, or monosyllabic neo-Nazis slithering out from under some slime-covered rock. These foes are easily defeatable because they’re already marginalized and irrelevant. But a guy who can turn a phrase and make a reasonable case may not be so easy to disregard, even if he does use inflammatory rhetoric now and again. A guy like that could change some minds. So maybe he’s gotta go before he can.
If you’re in charge of the world – cause honestly it’s not looking good for the kind of conservolibertarianism that Kevin Williamson espouses; Jessicavalentiism is much more likely to be our future – if you and the people like you are already in charge of the whole wide world then why would you be so scared of some bald douche? Why would professional journalists sit around wasting their time plotting to get him and his little dog, too? That doesn’t seem like a position of strength to me. If Kevin’s ideas are so beyond the pale, well take him on, chica.
Writer vs. writer. Philosophy vs. philosophy. Come on, bring the heat! Knock him out of the ballpark. Take that rage and turn it into a kickass thinkpiece. I may only be an amateur journo, but I thought that was how the whole “writing to persuade” thing kinda worked. Ya study the facts, ya build a case, ya publish it. If somebody else does the same and takes an opposite tack, then you write another piece refuting it. As many pieces as it takes, because you are writing not for your own gratification but to persuade your readers. Persuasion involves circumventing every possible objection, slapping away every counterargument, hunting down every angle and beating it bloody to make your case. You do not persuade readers by sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la, la, la I can’t hear you.” Journalism is not about YOU, the writer, it is not about you having happy happy joy joy in your place of employ without having to ever hear or read anything you disagree with. It’s about your readers and persuading them, and disqualifying other writers from doing the same, on a technicality, is cheating.
Having to rise to the occasion and respond to what someone who completely disagrees with you wrote is an important part of improving as a writer (and every truly dedicated writer knows that they desperately need improvement). One of the best pieces I ever did https://atomicfeminist.com/2017/10/25/hit-the-road-joad/ was in large part because I was super pissed at Kevin Williamson. It made me better because I disagreed with him so strongly. Hearing arguments that made me furious inspired me to want to destroy those arguments. (not the man, the argument.) I cannot imagine even WANTING to avoid hearing contrary opinions, for “OMG Trump, amiright?????” “I know, totally!” to be the only two acceptable editorial opinions of every news source in America.
Spending the day Tweeting and fuming https://medium.com/@jessicavalenti/on-the-atlantic-jeffrey-goldberg-and-hiring-men-who-want-women-dead-179254321340 and then going home and crying before deciding to use the bully pulpit of social media to obliterate a political opponent? Really? Personally, I’d be too humiliated to admit that. I would write 1000 thinkpieces before I’d publicly admit that I launched an online campaign that got a fellow journalist fired. Do Valenti and Friends fear going head to head with Williamson because they’re afraid they’re going to lose? Have they been writing in an echo chamber so long they’re not really sure they have what it takes to go head to head with someone who disagrees? Maybe if he had been allowed to write more than one piece, the readers might start to realize, hmm, this guy is somebody I want to read more from, and that could not be allowed. I don’t know.
But I do know this – I don’t respect the way Kevin Williamson got fired from the Atlantic, I don’t respect the people who got him fired, and I don’t respect the people who fired him.