HuffPo has the transcript and video of a meeting that Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg and featured writer Ta-Nehisi Coates had with the magazine’s staff immediately after the Kevin Williamson debacle. It is without question pathetic. Gruesomely squishy. As the DC conservative friend who sent me the link writes, “I have a ton of respect for Goldberg (and quite a bit for Coates as well), but this is just astounding. They can’t articulate why they believe what they do. Just incoherent quasi-liberalism.” HuffPo frames it as “a liberal self-reckoning.” If so, they must have reckoned that they have no self.
The dialogue is all over the place. What stands out to me about it is that these guys really think that Kevin Williamson is like some freak from the Planet Zoltar. Most people I know outside of the journalistic bubble a) don’t know who Kevin Williamson is, and b) would agree with most of what he writes, or at least would see it as well within the range of normal opinion. Not these guys. You read this and get the feeling that they feel that they’ve been photographed air-kissing Martin Bormann at a party, and are now trying to disassociate themselves from him. Read on:
Coates: I think one of the things that happens is you become incredibly cynical about certain people and about certain political beliefs, and you just don’t hold them to a level. So I can read Kevin Williamson, for instance, and I guess — and I probably would not have said this like this two weeks ago — but just watching, and thinking, and not really having expectations. Like, having craft expectations — like reading him and saying, how can I learn from this as a writer. But not really having actual expectations of seeing me or, frankly, a lot of you as fully realized human beings.
Really? Coates doesn’t think that Williamson sees him and others in the audience as “fully realized human beings”? What kind of batshit crazy judgment is that? Kevin Williamson is a conservative with strong opinions. I have never had the slightest idea that he sees people who disagree with him as somehow less than human. It frankly infuriates me that someone — especially someone of Coates’s stature — would consider Williamson in this light. And Goldberg doesn’t challenge him on it. Boy, does this ever tell us a lot about elite liberal journalists. More:
Goldberg: If we’re not making them all better then we’re not fulfilling the mission. But one more thing on this before we go to questions. I want to understand, as a journalist, put aside the other extraneous things that are going on around here, as a journalist, what attracted you to Kevin Williamson? You said on a podcast —
Coates: I think he’s a beautiful — I love people that, you know, I don’t like people who fuck around. I don’t like people who sort of do that duck and dodge, and he writes with a kind of aggression you know that I actually seek to write with myself. When I wrote “The Case for Reparations,” he wrote a reply. And I was so happy that he did. There was, like, no other conservative person I would have answered at all. You know, I was happy to be in debate with him.
I, again, I’m from a place where I can take my lessons from people and not agree with a damn thing they’re saying. You know, that’s just me. You know, reporting is one thing; that’s important. But the writing is actually really, really important for me. And I thought, when he was on, he’s really, really good actually. Like, the writing is really, really good. I don’t take that back, although I do want to kind of have that thought experiment again. But that was at least my impression at the time. That when he was on, he was pretty damn good. And I don’t think I was actually alone in feeling that. And I don’t just mean you. I mean outsiders, but I think there were other people who felt that way who were not necessarily crazy.
That don’t mean this was the right decision, or the right thing or the wrong thing happened — that’s not what I’m saying. But I don’t think I was alone in admiration with his craft. And I guess — you know what I learned from this? You know, when I went out and said, I think he’s a kick-ass writer. I don’t [inaudible], but I think he’s a kick-ass writer. Like, I actually can’t say things like that anymore. Even if it’s what I think because, you know, and I’m just coming back to this again. But what became clear to me was that other people get drawn in because I’m part of The Atlantic. That’s been really hard to see, you know. I say that, and probably if I was on Twitter, he would be in my mentions calling me to account. But I’m not there, right? So you see other people who ain’t said nothing at all. Who ain’t done nothing but just try to do their job. Who ain’t had nothing to do with this. You know, getting called on stuff. And that’s just hard to see. That’s very, very hard to watch.
Translation: Williamson is really talented, but a lot of people on the left wet their pants over him, and now TNC is trying to distance himself from the guy without losing face. Pathetic.
Goldberg: Do you think The Atlantic would be diminished if we narrowed the bounds of acceptability in ideological discourse, even as we grow in diversity?
Coates: Again, I don’t think it’s a question of narrowing. I think it’s where the lines are drawn.
Goldberg: Well, it is if you bring the lines in.
Coates: Well, no, you open it up. You understand what I’m saying? Like, as I said before, I don’t think 15 years ago or 20 years ago we would have ran “The Case For Reparations.” So that means it’s opened up in a different direction. I think if we publish kick-ass stories, very little of this will actually matter.
OK, true … BUT KEVIN WILLIAMSON WAS NEVER GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE THOSE STORIES. And these two go on and on and on without saying anything meaningful.
Look at this stretch of dialogue:
Coates: No, I don’t think that’s Vann’s question. That’s not Vann’s question. It’s not “are you gonna fire Ta-Nehisi?” That’s not his question.
Goldberg: No, no. I mean, no, no. Because you’re triggering me here because I get a lot of stuff about him. I get a lot of stuff about a lot of people.
Coates: That’s his point, though. And not in “are you gonna fire …?” Like, is it healthy in general. Everybody knows where you are in this. I mean, it’s not “are you going to fire this dude?”
Goldberg: Is it healthy — what’s the healthy or unhealthy thing?
Coates: Is it healthy to have —
Goldberg: No, I mean, I’m sorry, because I got all self-righteous in my mind. And I was going to say — I mean, look, it’s very hard for me to disaggregate the professional Ta-Nehisi from the personal Ta-Nehisi because —
Coates: Can you maybe repeat the question?
Goldberg: No, I mean, I want to say that. I just feel the need to say this. I mean he’s one of the dearest people in my life. I’d die for him. So like —
Coates: That’s not what he’s asking!
Goldberg: I know! But —
Coates: We all know that!
Goldberg: No, I want you to know that.
Coates: We all know this. That’s not his question, though. He’s clear on that.
Goldberg: No, I want you to know that.
Coates: I do know that!
Goldberg: Can’t I just express my love for you? What’s so bad? What’s so wrong?
Coates: Can I just say — and I would only say this sitting in this room — but that was a very white response.
I wish to express here my agreement with TNC’s judgment. Good lord, white liberals. Honestly, people. TNC is trying to be the grown-up here.
Read the whole thing. The only thing that sounded like a substantive question was the stuff from Emma Green. Here was her question:
Green: So I definitely agree that we are a better place. We do more interesting work I think than when I first got here, but I think I’ve heard you talk about this — I’ve definitely heard Conor talk about this. I think I’ve even heard Jim talk about this, I don’t want to speak for you guys — but a certain amount of nostalgia for that time, which was the ability to just get out there and punch each other and people debating and actually having genuinely different ideas and having that spirit of really wanting to engage. And we just don’t have that anywhere on our website. So I wonder if you think this Kevin Williamson affair represents the impossibility of getting back to any version of that, or if there is some version of that that we could get back and how.
Great question! And Coates flubs it. I can’t figure out why. It is hard to parse what’s really going on with Goldberg and Coates here. I have no idea after reading that transcript what their journalistic principles are. Goldberg comes off as someone dealing with a severe case of ideological PTSD after having had the crap beat out of him by liberal women. Coates seems a little more grounded, but it is also impossible to find any kind of journalistic standard in what he’s saying.
Remember that they canned Kevin Williamson for something he said on a podcast long before he was hired by the Atlantic — and something that was not as bad as what he was reported to have said, after you get the context.
Judging by this, the Atlantic will be edited with the standards of an Ivy League campus newspaper. It will be completely tame. Nothing that might even slightly challenge, much less offend, respectable liberal opinion will sully its pages. What a shame. Maybe Emma Green should run the magazine. After reading this entire long dialogue, she is the only one there who comes across having any kind of firm idea about what The Atlantic should be.
“Just incoherent quasi-liberalism” said the DC conservative who sent that to me. That’s it.