The Corner

Culture

On the Cowardly Firing of Kevin Williamson

(Kevin D. Williamson at the 2015 National Review Institute Ideas Summit)

The Atlantic has caved to the intolerant mob and fired Kevin Williamson, and in so doing has contributed to a slanderous fiction — that Kevin is so beyond the pale that he has no place at one of the nation’s premiere mainstream publications. His millions of words, his countless interviews, and his personal character were reduced to nothing — inconsequential in the face of deleted tweets and a five-minute podcast dialogue.

So, what are The Atlantic’s readers now missing? I ask you to read Kevin’s February 18, 2016, NR cover story about the opioid crisis. It’s not a chart-filled, graphics-heavy analysis. It’s a story about people. It’s a story told the way only Kevin can. It takes a reader who may not know or may never meet a heroin addict, and it puts you in their world. By the end, your heart breaks.

Want to see what it looks like when Kevin takes aim at the truly ridiculous? The opening to his September 11, 2017, evisceration of the alt-right is hilarious, vivid, biting, and true. It features the longest single sentence I’ve ever read, and it all just works. He paints a picture I could never paint, no matter how long I labored over my keyboard.

Kevin is independent. He’s provocative. Sure, he can troll a little bit, and — no — I don’t agree with everything he says. I’m a moderate, you see. If abortion is ever criminalized in this nation, I think only the abortionist (and not the mother) should face murder charges for poisoning, crushing, or dismembering a living child. So we might differ about the laws in hypothetical-future-America.

But in this America, the one we live in now, Kevin is one of our most interesting and talented voices. Like every single interesting and talented person I know, he can provoke. But so what? Aren’t we adults? Can’t we handle disagreement? Apparently not.

I’ve spent my entire adult life in an academic and media environment that put a premium on shocking the conservative conscience. Advocate for the most barbaric abortion practices? Fine. Celebrate an artist who dips a crucifix in urine? Cool. Decry 9/11 first responders as “not human” because of white supremacy? Intriguing. But the marketplace of ideas isn’t for the faint of heart, and good conservatives learn to simultaneously defend the culture of free speech while also fighting hard to build a culture of virtue and respect.

Look, I know it’s easy for some to dismiss Kevin’s termination as mere inside-baseball media drama. But it’s more than that. It’s a declaration by one of America’s most powerful media entities that it can’t even coexist with a man like Kevin. If he wants to write, he should run along to his conservative home. His new colleagues simply couldn’t abide his presence.

After Kevin was fired, Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti tweeted that she was “very relieved for the women” who work at The Atlantic. Why? What was Kevin going to do to them? Write things that made them angry? God forbid! His ideas might hurt? Have mercy!

And so it goes, the steady, inexorable division of America into the tolerable and the intolerable — with the range of tolerable people narrowing ever-so-rapidly. There’s no grace in this brave new world. There’s no charity. It’s not enough to disagree. Now we must ruin. Now we must humiliate. Saying “you’re wrong” is no longer enough. The argument isn’t sufficient.

One final note, The Atlantic was attracted to Kevin in part because of his independence, because he was willing to say what he thought even if he infuriated members of his own ideological tribe. And he often did. In return, he didn’t face a mere news cycle of fury. He faced it for weeks that stretched into months and have now stretched into years. The Atlantic couldn’t face friendly fire for a few days. Its cowardice hurts us all.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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