The Atlantic’s announcement that it had hired Kevin Williamson, a former writer for the National Review with a history of discriminatory statements, drew quick criticism.
Williamson made what ended up as, perhaps, his most publicized faux pas in 2014, when he wrote: “I believe abortion should be treated like any other premeditated homicide” and should be punished by hanging.
Other disturbing statements from Williamson include a comparison between trans people and individuals who worship voodoo dolls, and a description of a black child who he witnessed making “the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge” as a “three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg.”
Considering Williamson’s past statements, the Atlantic’s decision to hire him is surprising. But at the same time, it’s not at all.
Following the country’s shift to the right and the massive domestic divide in media consumption revealed by the election, outlets regarded as liberal have realized the partisanship of their production and readership. In an attempt to challenge ideological enclaves and push back against the perceived confirmation bias of its readership, these publications have hired more conservative writers. But some of the hires come with a provocative history.
Another prominent example of an outlet seeking out a troubling writer occurred when the New York Times hired, then rescinded its offer to Quinn Norton, who had previously posted homophobic slurs on Twitter and maintained a friendship with a prominent neo-Nazi.
I was once warned that being outspoken on Twitter would hurt my employability at The Atlantic, or even their ability to accept my pitches (I’ve never pitched them).— David Klion (@DavidKlion) March 26, 2018
Meanwhile, they just hired Kevin Williamson, who tweeted that women who get abortions should be hanged.
According to an article by AlterNet, the conservative hires seem to share a particular characteristic: They’re conservatives who don’t like President Donald Trump. The idea that disliking Trump translates to contributing useful and insightful thoughts to political discourse is an example of flawed logic.
It’s difficult to declare this is the logic motivating the choice of recent hires. But the president certainly has the capacity to shift the political baseline and seems to have been successful at rendering figures as odious as former President George W. Bush favorable in liberal eyes.
The easy ability to forget the abuses of Bush’s presidency seem to hint at a historical amnesia and political confusion that would bolster liberal support for conservatives who dislike Trump.
Outlets that strive to expand the ideological exposure of their readers are pursuing a worthy task that can help promote thoughtful discourse and steer national policy conversations in a beneficial direction.
However, hiring bigoted writers is not desirable, nor does it enhance political argument. The inclusion of writers who legitimate discriminatory ideology doesn’t add value to the public discussion.
Surely, if The Atlantic were truly trying to challenge its readership rather than offer a veneer of editorial diversity, the outlet could have found a conservative writer without a discriminatory history.