It turns out publishing “My Family’s Slave” wasn’t The Atlantic’s worst decision of the year.
Yesterday the magazine announced the first four contributors to Ideas, a new online opinion and commentary section. The roster includes current magazine staffers Annie Lowrey and Alex Wagner, along with race scholar Ibram X. Kendi and former National Review commentator Kevin Williamson.
The last hire raised the internet’s hackles. Williamson’s views are conservative in the extreme, and he hasn’t shied away from controversy.
In 2014, Williamson declared on Twitter that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.”
When one follower asked him if he meant imprisonment, Williamson replied, “I have hanging more in mind.”
You can’t see that exchange anymore, because Williamson deleted his Twitter account yesterday once the Atlantic appointment was announced. But his articles are still online, and they raise even more concerns.
In a column about race relations in Illinois, Williamson described a nine-year-old black boy as a “three-fifths scale Snoop Dogg” with his arms raised “in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.”
He has also steadfastly refused to call transgender people by their preferred pronouns, penning columns called “Bradley Manning Is Not a Woman” and “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman.” Both pieces referred to their subjects as “he.”
“Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” Williamson wrote.
The Atlantic is largely read by middle-aged liberals, so it’s shocking that Williamson would want to move there at all.
But he attempted to explain himself in his final National Review column. He compared himself to a Biblical prophet who was off to preach to the masses.
“I will be an apostle to the Gentiles,” Williamson wrote. “I am very much looking forward to raising a brand new kind of hell.”
He may not have written a single word for The Atlantic yet, but Williamson definitely raised hell on social media.
Like many outlets, The Atlantic has struggled to strike a balance in its coverage of the increasingly noisy world of right-wing politics.
The magazine’s struggles with Williamson recall the outcry last year after The New York Times hired climate change denier Bret Stephens as an opinion columnist.
Then in February, Times op-ed writer Quinn Norton was fired after Twitter users surfaced old tweets in which she defended neo-Nazis and used words like “nigger” and “faggot.” Norton only lasted seven hours on the job.
Coincidentally, Times opinion page editor James Bennet is the former editor-in-chief of The Atlantic.
All media outlets have to strike a balance in their opinion coverage. But there must be a middle ground between espousing conservative views and declaring that all women who have abortions should be hanged.
The Atlantic has not responded to an Observer request for comment.