In an email to his staff Thursday afternoon, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, announced that recently hired opinion columnist Kevin Williamson was fired after Goldberg realized that Williamson did, in fact, believe his own words that women should be hanged for having abortions.
Earlier Thursday, a company-wide event had been scheduled in which Atlantic editor Adrienne LaFrance was set to interview Williamson in front of staff, according to several Atlantic employees, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute. Goldberg announced Williamson’s firing just hours later, though a similar interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates scheduled for Friday appears to be going on as planned.
This news comes just weeks after The Atlantic announced Williamson’s hiring, which immediately sparked an uproar from people concerned that the publication was giving space to a man who compared a 9-year-old black child to a primate and, now most famously, said that women who get abortions should be hanged.
It apparently wasn’t until Media Matters’ report on Wednesday, which found that Williamson had defended the sentiment on a podcast, that Goldberg decided to take Williamson’s remarks seriously.
In a previous memo to staffers defending Williamson’s hiring, Goldberg had said, “I have disagreed with him more than I have agreed with him (an irrelevant metric when you’re the editor; not when you’re a reader), but I recognized the power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction of many of his pieces.” He also took care to note that Williamson was “prolific,” which is certainly true.
Among that body of prolific writing full of “wit” and “smart constructions” is a piece that notes that “there is something maddeningly sexy about a woman enforcing rules, and something sexually repugnant about a woman without any rules at all.” There’s also the article titled “Like a Boss,” which claims, “From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote. You can insert your own Mormon polygamy joke here, but the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs.”
Why Goldberg was unable to determine, based on Williamson’s extensive body of work, that Williamson very much believed all the things he had written down for years remains unclear.
You can read the email Goldberg sent to staffers below:
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.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.