Coffee breaks would be so awkward

Jessica Valenti points out what one would think was obvious: something said on Twitter isn’t magically not what the tweeter actually thinks, simply by virtue of being on Twitter.

On Thursday, the recently hired columnist Kevin Williamson was fired from the Atlantic after an uproar over his views on abortion – namely his belief, first mentioned in a 2014 tweet, that women who have the procedure should be executed by hanging.

Initially, the editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, defended Williamson, writing in a memo to staff that he did not believe “taking a person’s worst tweets … in isolation is the best journalistic practice”. But after the release of a podcast in which Williamson talked at length about hanging women, the writer was fired, and Goldberg admitted “that the original tweet did, in fact, represent [Williamson’s] carefully considered views”.

But sometimes a person’s worst tweets, like a person’s worst blurts or jokes or exclamations, tell you something.

Expressing a belief in a tweet – or on Facebook or Instagram – does not make that belief any less yours. That’s why I found it so odd when New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote an open letter to Williamson this weekend, apologizing to him over having his character “assassinated”.

“I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry,” Stephens wrote.

Easy for him; he’s not among the people Williamson would like to see hanged.

The truth, of course, is that Williamson never should have been hired in the first place; the Atlantic and Goldberg knew about Williamson’s belief about executing women who had abortions and brought him on anyway. They knew they would be forcing the women at the magazine – some of whom we can assume have had abortions – to sit in an office with a man who wanted them dead.

Or not so much wanted them dead as thought they ought to be dead, because executed by hanging for ending their own pregnancies. In a way that’s worse. Just wanting them dead…well lots of men seem to feel that way about women. But thinking they ought to be dead? At official hands, for making decisions about their own bodies? That’s cold.

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