Tuesday, April 24, 2018


In his recent Wall Street Journal piece about his dismissal by The Atlantic, Kevin Williamson complained that no journalist ever asked him to explain his position on the proper penalty for abortion in a hypothetical America in which abortion was criminalized. So New York magazine's Ed Kilgore asked him, twice -- and never got a straight answer, only some high-toned libs-are-evil invective, along these lines:
People on the pro-choice side seek to shift the conversation to the question of the specifics of criminal sanction for obvious and shallow rhetorical purposes — because that’s an easy way to whip up emotional hysteria, preempting meaningful discourse rather than enabling it. The obviousness and stupidity of that gambit should be fairly obvious to any reasonably intelligent and fair-minded adult, but those are in unfortunately short supply.
After Kilgore, published the non-response, Williamson should have slunk away quietly, his "no lib journalist would dare to ask me" gambit having blown up in his face. But he's back for more. Today he has a piece for The Weekly Standard piece -- yes, for a guy who's being "silenced" by liberal fascism, he sure does get published a lot -- in which he reopens the question and specifically attempts to take down Kilgore, failing spectacularly.
Ed Kilgore, a dreary partisan dolt in the employ of New York magazine...
I guess this is some of the "great prose" for which we should all cherish Williamson, according to Bret Stephens.
Ed Kilgore, a dreary partisan dolt in the employ of New York magazine, thought he saw an opening, and sent me a one-question inquiry: “What is your ‘public policy recommendation’ on appropriate punishment for women having abortions in a hypothetical criminalized abortion regime?” As any reasonably intelligent person will immediately detect, that question isn’t actually a question; it is a rhetorical stratagem in the shape of a question, deployed for the purpose of lame partisan point-scoring in the form of blocks of texts shaped like journalism.
Why is it a rhetorical stratagem rather than a question? Supporters of criminalizing abortion seek a world in which, um, abortion is criminalized. If someone is proposing that a currently legal act should be criminalized, it's reasonable to ask for more details on how this criminalization would be played out in practice. If I say AR-15s should be banned, you have every right to ask whether those that are currently in citizens' possession will be confiscated. I ought to have an answer for that, even if it's not what I want to talk about when I talk about AR-15s. But if you're on the right, being asked to answer an uncomfortable question is a moral outrage, even if you just complained that no one ever asked you to answer it.
It isn’t discourse, but a facsimile of it, the journalistic equivalent of the Gem├╝tlichkeit Spamwich created by Lisa Dziadulewicz of Sheboygan, Wisconsin: Just not quite right.
I guess Jonah Goldberg came first in the "Guest-Write a Sentence in a Tendentious Kevin Williamson Essay!" raffle. (That sandwich is a real thing, by the way; recipe here.)
It is, as I have noted, a dishonest strategy, because the question cannot be intelligently answered in a single sentence or two.... Try to summarize it in sound-bite form and you’ll produce something that is easy to caricature—which is, of course, the point of asking the question.
Fine, except that Kilgore didn't ask Williamson to answer the question "in a single sentence or two." This whole thing started with a Williamson tweet, but Kilgore isn't asking for an answer in tweet form. He sent an email. Presumably he wanted an emailable answer. You can easily email a an answer that's longer than two sentences.

Williamson answered with the you-want-a-piece-of-me? rhetoric quoted above, adding:
As noted, my original observations on this subject, including the Infamous Tweet, speak to the very dishonesty and stupidity of the stratagem upon which you are here relying. I can’t believe that you are in fact unaware of my opposition to capital punishment.
I'm sure Kilgore was fully aware of that. He was also aware of Williamson tweets in which hanging was recommended, followed by a podcast in which hanging as the only logically consistent punishment for a woman who has an abortion was discussed at great length by Williamson. So, um, which is it, Kev? That was the question.

Williamson writes:
That, in turn, gave New York magazine the opportunity to write the headline Kilgore wanted to write: “Kevin Williamson Won’t Tell Me What He Thinks Should Happen to Women Who Have Abortions.”
I've read Kilgore for years. I'm sure he would have published a straight answer.
But that isn’t the whole truth, either. I made a great effort to tell him—and his editor, Adam Moss.

What you will not read about at New York magazine is the fact that I offered them a full account of my views on the subject, in the form of an essay on exactly how I think we should go about dealing with the legal prohibition of abortion. (In the interest of making this easier for New York magazine, I offered this at no charge, something I almost never do. “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” as Dr. Johnson observed.) Why take one or two sentences, filtered through the unreliable sensibility of a hostile columnist, when you could have the whole thing? Because, as New York editor Adam Moss told me, that is “as much on the subject of your views on this matter as we want to publish.”

And there you have it.
This isn't a response to Kilgore's question -- this is a writer's pitch. Williamson, who clearly craves "liberal media" validation, just lost a sweet gig at a top "liberal media" outlet. At this point, he was pitching another "liberal media" outlet, offering to do a piece free (in exchange for a byline), at which point he'd be seen as a hero who maneuvered his way into a patch of column inches in enemy territory. What he wouldn't do was send an answer to the question he was asked without this arrangement in place.

If he was so determined to get his point across, and if he didn't care about being paid, why didn't he just write the piece anyway and send it to Kilgore (and Moss as well)? Then he could tell the world that, no he hadn't answered the question in "sound-bite form," but yes, he'd answered the hell out of it.

He could still do that. The Journal would probably publish his reply. So would the Standard. So, I imagine, would many other publications, many of them not conservative.

But he'd rather grumble that he's being subjected to censorship and calumnies, because that's much more important to conservative pundits than advancing their policy arguments.

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