Accuracy in Media

Editors at The Atlantic knew all along Kevin Williamson was against abortion — they just didn’t know he was this against abortion.

The magazine fired Williamson Thursday, just a little more than a week after announcing his hiring and after he had written a single column, because a video surfaced of Williamson saying he supported treating abortion as homicide and punishing it accordingly.

“Late yesterday afternoon, information came to our attention that has caused us to reconsider this relationship,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic.

“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.”

Goldberg’s story – reflected in his statements Thursday, a week earlier when Williamson was hired and as the controversy has swirled since – is that he understood Williamson’s remarks on abortion to have been one-off tweets sent in a moment of passion and that he decided to give Williamson a second chance.

But Williamson, as friends and foes have noted, is prolific, and Media Matters for America, the media arm of the liberal Center for American Progress, publicized a video of Williamson explaining the views he made clear on numerous occasions.

Williamson says in the video: “And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, ‘If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.’ And I do support that. In fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging.”

Williamson said the reference to hanging was because he is not comfortable with the government being violent, but if it is to be violent, let it be violent in a way everyone can see and judge.

“My broader point here is, of course, that I am a – as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general – but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code, sure.”

Goldberg said it was “not about Kevin’s views on abortion. We are striving here to be a big-tent journalism organization at a time of national fracturing.”

He appears to claim he was misled.

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

But Williamson’s allusion to hanging appeared to others to be an off-the-cuff remark to make vivid a point he has made several times – one that is not out of the mainstream of pro-life thinking.

Sharon Kann of Media Matters pointed out in her story, “Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that although he found some of Williamson’s work problematic, he dismissed the severity of his comments on abortion, saying: ‘Lots of conservatives believe that abortion is murder. Williamson was willing to take this publicly to its logical endpoint – that women who get abortions should be prosecuted for Murder 1 – but that act of folly is the only difference between him and every other right-wing pundit.”

A more likely explanation came from Noah Rothman of Commentary magazine, who tweeted “Kevin Williamson: hired for his talent, fired for his views. This is chilling.”

The Washington Post tried to compare what happened to Williamson to others who had been hired then fired in short order by media companies.

It compared him to Quinn Norton, a technology writer hired and fired by the New York Times in six hours because of anti-gay and racial tweets, Ben Domenech, who resigned after three days at the Washington Post after liberal bloggers claimed he had plagiarized articles, and Kurt Eichenwald, a liberal former academic who last weekend had to edit his bio after it was discovered he no longer is affiliated with Vanity Fair or MSNBC, as he claimed.

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