The Atlantic Cuts Ties With Conservative Writer Kevin Williamson

Kevin D. Williamson, a columnist The Atlantic had hired late last month, wrote in a Twitter exchange and said on a podcast in 2014 that abortion should be treated as premeditated homicide.

The Atlantic magazine on Thursday terminated its relationship with Kevin D. Williamson, the conservative writer whose hiring last month angered liberals and sparked an online debate about what views are considered acceptable in mainstream publications.

It was Mr. Williamson’s hard-line stance on abortion — namely, that it should be treated as premeditated homicide and punished accordingly, perhaps by hanging — that generated the initial controversy over his hiring.

It was that same viewpoint that led to his abrupt departure.

Mr. Williamson expressed it during a Twitter exchange in September 2014. After hiring him in late March, Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine’s editor in chief, defended Mr. Williamson, saying that he did not want to judge people for their “worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation.”

But on Thursday, Mr. Goldberg wrote in a memo to his staff that he had come to see the writer’s remarks on Twitter as something more than merely trollish. The editor cited a podcast episode from the same month in which Mr. Williamson elaborated on his anti-abortion views — which seemed in keeping with how he had described them on Twitter.

“The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it,” Mr. Goldberg wrote. “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.”

“I have come to the conclusion,” Mr. Goldberg added, “that The Atlantic is not the best fit for his talents, and so we are parting ways.”

The podcast in question was a National Review show called “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” which is hosted by Mr. Williamson and the NationalReview.com editor, Charles C. W. Cooke. The episode that dealt with abortion received renewed attention after it was turned up this week by the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters. At one point during the episode, Mr. Williamson said of abortion, “I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging.”

Mr. Williamson, in an email exchange on Thursday, declined to respond to questions about his termination.

The outrage over the writer, who spent many years as a correspondent for National Review, fell squarely into a burgeoning culture war over free speech, gender issues and questions about which views deserve a megaphone as prominent as The Atlantic, a magazine that relies on a heavily liberal readership.

In announcing Mr. Williamson’s new role last month, Mr. Goldberg acknowledged that he had “disagreed with him more than I have agreed with him.” But he praised Mr. Williamson’s writing as stylish, witty and “ideologically interesting,” and said he envisioned The Atlantic as “a big tent for ideas and argument.”

Liberals cried foul. Besides pointing out Mr. Williamson’s tweet about abortion, his critics noted an essay in which he rejected the gender identity of the transgender actress Laverne Cox, referring to her with male pronouns. Another Williamson essay described an African-American child as adopting “the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.”

The abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America started a #FireKevin campaign on Twitter. On Thursday, Naral issued a formal statement that praised Mr. Williamson’s firing and called the writer an “extremist bigot.”

“While The Atlantic should have never allowed him to occupy space in its pages, we’re relieved that Jeffrey Goldberg heard the concerns and outrage of so many and removed Williamson from his post,” wrote Ilyse Hogue, Naral’s president.

Some conservatives pushed back, arguing that liberals were trying to stifle speech and that Mr. Williamson was being unfairly defined by a tiny fraction of his published work.

After learning that The Atlantic had fired Mr. Williamson, Erick Erickson, a prominent conservative writer, deemed the decision “another reminder that much of American conservatism finds itself ghettoized not by choice, but by the left’s active demands that the right be silenced.”

During his brief time at The Atlantic, Mr. Williamson published one column, an examination of current conservative politics headlined “The Passing of the Libertarian Moment.”

Mr. Goldberg, in his Thursday memo, said he remained committed to maintaining ideological diversity among his stable of opinion writers.

“We are striving here to be a big-tent journalism organization at a time of national fracturing,” Mr. Goldberg wrote. “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.”

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