Conservative Columnist is Hired and Fired by Atlantic Magazine in Record Time

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Atlantic’s Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, hired and then in just weeks abruptly fired, conservative columnist Kevin Williamson.  Why?  Because Goldberg found out that the writer believes the things he Tweets about.  It was only a couple of weeks ago when Williamson was hired and it created a negative reaction from many in the left in the media world, as it came to believe that publication was taking a fateful turn to the right.

Goldberg assured staff at the Atlantic and critics outside the publication that what Williamson says in interviews, podcasts, and Tweets, are not a reflection of his true feelings.  However, everything changed after Goldberg had a lengthier chat with Williamson.  The result was the memo below and the firing of Williamson, obtained by USA Daily Chronicles, announcing the firing.  The magazine found out that Williamson actually did believe his positions, which included that women who have abortions (and the medical professionals providing them) should suffer the death penalty.

In the odd memo, Goldberg writes:

Dear All,

Last week, I wrote you about our decision to hire Kevin Williamson. In that note, I mentioned my belief that Kevin would represent an important addition to our roster of Ideas columnists, and I addressed the controversy surrounding some of his past tweeting and writing. I expressed my belief that no one’s life work should be judged by an intemperate tweet, and that such an episode should not necessarily stop someone from having a fruitful career at The Atlantic.

Late yesterday afternoon, information came to our attention that has caused us to reconsider this relationship. Specifically, the subject of one of Kevin’s most controversial tweets was also a centerpiece of a podcast discussion in which Kevin explained his views on the subject of the death penalty and abortion. The language he used in this podcast—and in my conversations with him in recent days—made it clear that the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views. The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it. Furthermore, the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.

Kevin is a gifted writer, and he has been nothing but professional in all of our interactions. But I have come to the conclusion that The Atlantic is not the best fit for his talents, and so we are parting ways.

We remain committed to grappling with complex moral issues in our journalism. Some of our colleagues are pro-life, and some are pro-choice; we have pro-death-penalty and anti-death-penalty writers; we have liberals and conservatives. We obviously understood that Kevin himself is pro-life when we asked him to write for us. This is not about Kevin’s views on abortion.

We are striving here to be a big-tent journalism organization at a time of national fracturing. We will continue to build a newsroom that is, as The Atlantic’s founding manifesto states, “of no party or clique.” We are also an organization that values a spirit of generosity and collegiality. We must strive to uphold that standard as well.


Former journalist David Guenthner told USADC: “The playbook was the same — digital left mob picks the single most provocative thing he has said in a massive body of work and press on that until the editors bend. Which doesn’t take very long because Acela corridor editors are scared of the left more than they are of us.”

As you can see, the letter is almost humorous.  It is hard to not be cynical about it.  Was the hire a publicity stunt?  After all, the announcement of the hiring and firing has given the magazine more ink than it has seen in ages.  Was the hiring — and firing — made to be a mockery of conservative journalism?  Because in the process they seemed to take every effort to make Williamson look like a joke as they publicly reviewed his record rather than using discretion, which is the norm in hiring.  It is hard to say, but I think it is safe to assume that any future conservatives looking for work will think twice before going to the Atlantic.  Meanwhile, one can hope Goldberg and his teams takes the statements of potential employees on face value, or at least do their due diligence in private.


NOTE: Additional comments were added after the original posting of this article.


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