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It’s Just A Question Of What Your Red Lines Are


I recommend Jordan Weismann’s critique of the Atlantic’s decision to hire Kevin Williamson in its entirety, but this is a particularly good point:

A longtime correspondent for the National Review, Williamson is, at his best, a right-wing provocateur who writes enjoyable, if slightly retro, prose. At his worst, he’s a verbose and hateful troll. Describing a 2014 visit to the impoverished city of East St. Louis, Illinois, Williamson compared a black child to a “primate” and a “three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg” before likening his own trip through Illinois to Marlow’s journey up the Congo River in Heart of Darkness, all within the space of a single paragraph. (He later denied, unconvincingly, that the three-fifths reference was a slavery joke.) In a column that same year about Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, Williamson compared trans people to voodoo doll worshippers. “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” he wrote. He accused Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew, of leading a “nationalist-socialist movement” in a too-cute-by-half bid for rage clicks. And perhaps most notoriously, he once opined on Twitter that women who had abortions should be hanged. “I believe abortion should be treated like any other premeditated homicide,” he later clarified, in case anybody doubted his sincerity. “I’m torn on capital punishment generally; but treating abortion as homicide means what it means.”


Which is why Goldberg’s appeal to intellectual diversity also rings a bit hollow. After all, the Atlantic doesn’t seem to be making any effort to hire pro-Trump writers, who would represent the views of approximately 40 percent of the American population. (You could say the same about Bennet’s opinion page at the Times.) That’s a justifiable choice—just try reading the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page these days—but it suggests that Goldberg has some intellectual red lines he isn’t willing to cross in the name of diversity, one of which happens to cordon off the entire contemporary Republican Party. Other editors might pick different red lines—like transphobia, or history of racial insensitivity—that would rule a writer like Williamson out. Goldberg is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in large part because he’s a conservative who opposes Trump, which makes him “interesting.”

Elite opinion editors talk a good game about “diversity,” but in fact their opinion pages are generally not very diverse, and what are defended as “diversity” hires generally represent views already well-represented on their pages, which typically range from moderate liberal to anti-Trump conservative. (As Yglesias says, “the opinion elite ideal is to have an ideologically diverse group of people all of whom voted for either Clinton or Rubio in the primaries then Clinton in the general, but regard her as a profoundly flawed politician and one of the worst nominees of all time.” I would add that the ideal hire should also be convinced that since she would have no problem being paid six figures to write 1,600 words a week until she’s 70, people who tar roofs in Phoenix for a living also shouldn’t get Social Security until they’re 70.) There are clearly red lines; it’s a question of what they are. Goldberg thinks that supporting Trump is essentially disqualifying, but not advocating that a quarter of the women in America be executed, or flagrant racism. OK. (Do I think that Goldberg would hire someone who was as much an anti-Israel extremist as Williamson is an anti-abortion extremist? I do not.)

BTW, let’s return to Williamson’s infamous sojourn to East St. Louis:

East St. Louis, Ill. — ‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?”

The racism goes without saying, and if I were running an opinion section would be disqualifying in itself. But does anyone think this incident happened as Williamson reports it? I had no idea that Jukt Micronics had a branch in East St. Louis. Anyway, it’s always instructive to know what opinion editors find disqualifying and what they don’t.
…see also.

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