Jeffrey Goldberg’s announcement that The Atlantic had “parted ways” with our old friend Kevin Williamson — what a gutless way to announce you’ve fired someone, a week or so into the job — represents a successful effort to redefine “beyond the pale” in the political debates of 2018, or to close the Overton Window, if you prefer that metaphor.
A week ago, Goldberg told his staff this in a memo:
I don’t think that taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice. . . He’s an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively. . . Diversity in all its forms makes us better journalists; it also opens us up to new audiences. I would love to have an Ideas section filled with libertarians, socialists, anarcho-pacifists and theocons, in addition to mainstream liberals and conservatives, all arguing with each other. If we are going to host debates, we have to host people who actually disagree with, and sometimes offend, the other side. Kevin will help this cause.
Yesterday, allegedly because of Kevin’s comments in a podcast — “the language used in the podcast was callous and violent,” Goldberg decreed — Kevin was suddenly unacceptable, and he had no place in Goldberg’s vision of a wide-ranging, diverse, provocative debate.
This explanation that some long-forgotten podcast comment suddenly made Kevin persona non grata doesn’t make much sense. What does make sense is the theory that Goldberg completely underestimated the level of liberal rage about the presence of an outspoken conservative in its pages — both outside and inside the building. (For those saying, “what about current Atlantic columnists David Frum, Caitlin Flanagan, and Conor Friedersdorf?” I’d respond, “I said an outspoken conservative.”) It didn’t take a master detective to figure out that if Goldberg continued to defend the hiring of Williamson, he would be the next figure in the crosshairs of the angry leftist mob.
Congratulations, Jeffrey Goldberg. You’ve worked your way up to a position of management and leadership at a major media publication, and now you’ve agreed to give the Woke Twitter crowd veto power over your personnel decisions. Who runs The Atlantic? The loudest complainer on staff who makes Goldberg nervous.
Look, dear reader, if Kevin Williamson is “beyond the pale,” beyond the realm of socially and politically acceptable thought and discourse, then you and I are either beyond the pale as well or bumped right up against it, as social justice warriors strain to pull it ever leftward. Our speech doesn’t merely challenge or provoke them, it is decreed threatening and dangerous, a social crime if not a literal legal one.
Are You ‘Shadow-Banned’ on Twitter?
Are you seeing a surprisingly low level of responses to your Tweets? Do some people seem to miss Tweets that you’re certain they should have seen? Does it feel like your level of followers has plateaued?
There’s a contention that Twitter “shadow bans” certain accounts it doesn’t like based on user reports and algorithms. The company won’t tell you if you’re in this quasi-detention and your account won’t be suspended; your tweets just won’t show up in the feeds of certain people. You’ll be walled off from the rest of Twitter, kept in a limited realm of existing followers who aren’t bothered by you.
To test this, I decided to compare two of the higher-profile members of the U.S. Senate.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz has more than 3.2 million followers. You would figure that almost every tweet he wrote would get a significant reaction. And yet, as you scroll through his feed, you find most tweets he writes have, collectively, a few hundred retweets and likes at most. Just in the last few days: 259 retweets, 90 retweets, 62 retweets. Cruz’s most retweeted item in the past few days appears to have been retweeted 416 times.
California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris has 1.5 million followers, roughly half that of Cruz. But almost all of her tweets are shared at a rate three to four times, sometimes as much as forty times, as much as Cruz’s. Her most recent tweets have been retweeted 1,800 times, 1,300 times, 981 times, and 4,000 times.
Is it just that Harris’ tweets are so much more interesting? Are her followers, constituents, and fans so much more likely to share her tweets, compared to his? Are conservatives just less likely to retweet something than liberals are?
Or are some of Cruz’s followers just not seeing his tweets?
Remember, a Twitter contractor managed to shut down the president’s account for eleven minutes on his last day on the job. It’s not like we can just dismiss the possibility of partisan or ideological shenanigans in Silicon Valley.
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee invited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify about user privacy. Zuckerberg has agreed to attend.
Perhaps it’s a fair question to ask managers of social media networks — do your companies’ policies or algorithms ever limit a user’s audience and reach without informing them? And what is the criteria for this sort of secret semi-ban?
A Clarifying Point About the Stormy Daniels Scandal
I’ve had little interest in the Stormy Daniels story, as it seems to be a tawdry retelling of what just about all of us already knew about Trump: He cheats on his wives, he uses money to influence people, he threatens people who he thinks could hurt him in some way, and he loves non-disclosure agreements.
But something clicked after Trump’s uncharacteristically terse comment about her and her claims on Air Force One Thursday.
In her 60 Minutes interview, Daniels makes clear that she knew what she was getting into with Trump. She was introduced to him at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in July 2006. He invited her to dinner, and she accepted, agreeing to dine with him in his hotel suite. She seemed to have no illusions about what he was interested in, she proposed the. . . suggestive act with the magazine, and she said their sex was entirely consensual, even though she wasn’t attracted to him. He had mentioned having her as a contestant on The Apprentice.
So why would Trump allegedly want her to sign the non-disclosure agreement, and why would $130,000 come her way in October 2016, allegedly paid by Trump’s lawyer out of his own pocket?
By October 2016, the old philandering stories weren’t going to harm Trump. He had already won the Republican nomination, the Christian Right had come to terms with his infamous history, appearing on the cover of Playboy, etc., and Stormy Daniels telling the story of the affair probably wouldn’t have made a significant impact on the 2016 presidential race. He had already survived the infamous Access Hollywood tape!
But if Daniels told her story, she would make Donald Trump’s relationship with Melania a lot more complicated really fast. Philandering is bad; philandering while your wife is raising your four-month-old son is really bad. If the rumors are true, Melania Trump is quickly approaching her breaking point; a woman can only put up with so much humiliation and disrespect.
Donald Trump may be a terrible husband, but it seems safe to assume he doesn’t want a divorce. Even though he’s got a pre-nuptual agreement, it would mean a lot of pain, embarrassing headlines, probably fights about access to Barron, and all of the other stresses, disputes, and heartache that comes with a messy divorce. Whatever his numerous flaws and runaway narcissism, Donald Trump probably likes his life with Melania a lot more than the prospect of one without her.
So that’s what made Stormy Daniels’ denial worth $130,000.
ADDENDA: Michael Graham looks at the possibility of a 2020 primary challenge to Trump and points out that while primary challenges to sitting presidents rarely succeed, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush all were considerably damaged by their difficulties in fighting off Eugene McCarthy, Ted Kennedy, and Pat Buchanan.
Would John Kasich or Jeff Flake be content to play spoiler and help a Democrat win in 2020?