It is incredibly rich that Goldberg and Stephens both, as well as many of Williamson’s defenders, spent a great deal of time arguing that a writer didn’t actually mean what he wrote, or that it was simply a mistake. Sure, a tweet is a tweet, but most half-baked tweets don’t argue that the state-sponsored murder of millions of people who have had abortions is either a logical conclusion or simple wish fulfillment. If anything, it’s further proof that Williamson’s cliche conservatism (opinions which have been rehashed by numerous outlets and are not worth repeating) is just that, despite both Goldberg and Stephens’s arguments that there are uniquely interesting and meritorious.


In his earlier memo defending Williamson, Golberg explained it as part of The Atlantic’s commitment to diversity:

It is my mission to make sure that we outdo our industry in achieving gender equality and racial diversity. It is also my job is to make sure that we are ideologically diverse. Diversity in all its forms makes us better journalists; it also opens us up to new audiences [...]


The argument that Williamson provides diversity would almost laughable on its face if it hadn’t recently become a philosophical perspective at the op-ed pages at numerous legacy outlets. At The Atlantic or Williamson’s former home, The National Review, such lines of inquiry were evidence of some kind of intellect, of a “provocateur,” a classic polemicist, or a “provocative right-wing voice.” Central to the media’s recent construction of the provocateur is that they don’t believe what they are actually saying. Rather, they are just engaging in the intellectual pursuit of inquiry for the sake of argument. Advocating that women should be hanged in a public spectacle of state-sponsored violence was extreme, both Goldberg and Stephens’s acknowledged, but it wasn’t reflective of Williamson himself, rather just his unique (and sometimes controversial) approach to the discourse.

It says something about the legacy media that Williamson’s perspective is believed to be unique—or “diverse.” Arguing that women who have abortions are murderers isn’t a unique point of view, but believing that it is insightful or interesting only speaks to the remove of op-ed pages from communities where this is pretty status quo. Indeed, a quick look at abortion policies on both the state and federal levels show a country that isn’t legislatively that far from Williamson, save the death penalty. Women’s bodies are routinely subject to the panoptic view of the state and its laws, criminalized for miscarriages, and denied what’s been determined to be a fundamental right of citizenship. Even Donald Trump, despite Williamson’s disregard for him, agrees on this point: During his 2016 campaign, Trump said that women should be punished for abortion.


What is clear, as this spectacle came to its inevitably cynical conclusion, is that responses outside the framework of traditional debate, including questions about why Williamson was hired or anger over his hiring, are well outside of the proverbial boundaries of inquiry. They are not “ideological diversity,” but rather Twitter mobs or “outrage” or, at their worse, dampening free speech. What’s clear, in this frame, is that criticism is not provocation and those who write it are not provocateurs or polemists, rather they are simply dismissed as an angry ill-informed mob.

But the mob, in this case, argued something apparently radical: Believe the provocateur, he isn’t merely “trolling.” Goldberg, at last, seems to understand that Williamson truly meant the very things he built his public reputation on. The one that, presumably, caught Goldberg’s attention in the first place.