Wednesday, March 28, 2018


National Review's David French is leaping to the defense of The Atlantic, which has been widely criticized for hiring French's former colleague Kevin Williamson as a reporter and, presumably, troll. French writes:
Kevin was our much-beloved and much-respected “roving correspondent.” He’s supremely talented and undeniably provocative. He’s also incredibly prolific. He’s written millions of words, granted countless media interviews, and sent thousands of tweets (at least when he was still on Twitter). So of course he’s now subject to the unbelievably tedious “gotcha” exercise of angry progressives combing through that body of work, yanking the most irritating examples from the whole, and attempting to define Kevin entirely through a few paragraphs, a sentence here or there, or an ill-considered tweet or two.
The most famous of those "ill-considered tweets" was a series in which Williamson said that women who have abortions should be convicted of murder and executed by hanging. Williamson's defenders regularly dismiss this as a momentary lapse of reason by an otherwise thoughtful man who clicked the "Tweet" button too hastily in the heat of the moment. But as this story from the anti-abortion LifeSiteNews makes clear, after he'd had a chance to think about what he'd tweeted, Williamson affirmed that he wouldn't take it back:
Over the weekend, Williamson said on Twitter that "I have hanging more in mind" in response to a person who asked "have abortions get life without parole?"

When an abortion supporter Tweeted that "Williamson said that women who have abortions should be hanged," Williamson said "Yes, I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide."

... In a statement to LifeSiteNews, the libertarian Williamson said, "I'm queasy about capital punishment in general, though I am not against it in all cases. And I do believe that abortion should be treated under the law like any other premeditated homicide."

"The question I was asked was, 'Do I really believe that abortion should be treated like murder.' The answer is, 'Yes.'"
In defending Williamson, French resorts to whataboutism -- ineptly. He quotes a critical New Republic piece by Sarah Jones:
Williamson may be the perfect conservative columnist. His excesses are the excesses of a movement, and conservatives fawn over his attacks because they think he’s targeting the right people.
Oh yeah? says French. Well, what about ... what about ...

His whatabout example is The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates. Now remember, Williamson has said that all women who've had abortions deserve the death penalty. He's also (as Slate's Jordan Weissmann reminds us) "compared a black child to a 'primate' and a 'three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg' before likening his own trip through Illinois to Marlow’s journey up the Congo River in Heart of Darkness, all within the space of a single paragraph," in a story (not a tweetstorm) about East St. Louis, and he's also called trans actress Laverne Cox "not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” and described Bernie Sanders as the leader of a "nationalist-socialist movement" (both of these, again, in stories, not tweets). These are attacks -- ad hominem/ad feminam attacks. They're slurs and slanders.

So what has Ta-Nehisi Coates written that's comparable? Let French explain:
This is what [Coates] said about the police and firefighters who sacrificed their lives in the desperate quest to save the men and women in the Twin Towers on September 11: “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.”

The first responders of 9/11. Not human.

And this is what he wrote in response to calls for nonviolence in the midst of the recent Baltimore riots:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
French really believes he's delivered the coup de grace. He addresses Sarah Jones:
I’d ask Ms. Jones — is it possible that progressives “fawn over his attacks” because “he’s targeting the right people”?
Here's the problem: Nothing French has quoted is an attack. In the first quoted passage, Coates describes his own feelings on 9/11 as a young man whose close friend Prince Jones had been killed by police while unarmed; he's saying that he feared -- not without reason -- that the police might someday attack him. (He went on to tell an interviewer, "That was a state of my raw emotion at that time. Later, I came to grips with the fact that each of the folks who died were individual humans with likes, dislikes, hates, loves, etc., and I was able to grieve for them.")

As for the passage about the Baltimore riots, it's not an attack either. It's an explanation of why a population subject to police violence is likely to react with civilian violence. Attack? No -- it's a diagnosis.

In French's view, Coates is black and angry, therefore he's on the attack. Williamson is white and angry, so his attacks get multiple mulligans. The equivalence is false. The whataboutism fails.

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