One would think that if he desired, Ta-Nehisi Coates would just get Kevin Williamson fired from his new gig at The Atlantic. Here’s David Klion commenting on that fact on Twitter:
He shouldn’t have to, it’s not his job to, and I want to make clear I’m not asking him to, but Ta-Nehisi Coates could probably deal a mortal blow to The Atlantic if he wanted to.
— David Klion (@DavidKlion) March 27, 2018
Of course. But there’s a reason he hasn’t: because Ta-Nehisi Coates said within the past month that Kevin Williamson was his favorite conservative writer.
I mean, did you think The Atlantic would hire him without checking? Here’s what he told Jamie Weinstein:
“Weinstein asked the “Between the World and Me” author if there were a conservative writer who he finds interesting or compelling. Coates chuckled, then hesitated and chuckled again, saying he always reads Williamson’s work.
“H-ll, yeah,” Coates said at the one hour, 13-minute mark of the interview. “He can write his a– off! I don’t agree with sh-t he says, but – If you can write, I will always look at what you’re doing, because at the very least I can study some sh-t and figure out, maybe there’s something for me, in this,” he added. “Even if I hate what you’re saying, or I think you’re dead wrong.”
There are all sorts of lengthy screeds against Williamson’s presence in the pages of The Atlantic – here’s Slate’s piece on it, which at least lacks the utter hypocrisy behind TNNNR’s. This is not a surprise. It doesn’t matter how much of a doctrinaire conservative you are, it doesn’t matter that you’re anti-Trump as Kevin is, it doesn’t matter if you’re an interesting writer or a boring one, all that matters is power. In cases like these, the mere presence of a writer who disagrees with The Narrative about the world and where it’s going and where it ought to go is an insult to the idea that power resides in a mob of people who agree with you about things, not with the editorial directors of a publication.
Laura McKenna, who writes for The Atlantic on education issues, recently posted this on her personal blog: “Insider gossip. At the Atlantic, the print and big name side of the Atlantic is very much in the free speech camp, but the online/freelance/younger/smaller named editors and writers at the Atlantic are all on the side of the students. It’s funny how opinions on this issue really separate by age.” This may not be entirely accurate, but it makes sense given the outside reaction.
A smart intellectual magazine is a difficult thing to run because of the need to manage conflicting personalities and opinionated writers who clash constantly, whose clashes make the publication better. It is exhausting and draining and honestly the only thing that’s harder is probably running a university. Petty slights and insults are often seized upon as great moments requiring standoffs and assertions of noble causes. Writers who do mediocre work make up for it by demanding a great deal of time to just get that out of them. Writers who do great work must be coddled and encouraged. Writers who do crap work believe they have turned in spun gold and all their little darlings must be defended.
In this environment, finding people who are prodigious and prolific, provocative and acidic, and write with verve and honesty are rare things – all of which can be said of Kevin Williamson. The Jessica Valentis of the world are bent on proving that they have the power to decide who is allowed in their space, that it is a passionate crusade to prevent this awful misogynistic Neanderthal from violating their beloved Atlantic with his presence. But Williamson has the advantage of being something they’re not: interesting. Which makes him deserving of the post more than they are.