By now, most of you reading this have heard what happened to Kevin Williamson. He’s a conservative columnist whom The Atlantic hired to provide some ideological diversity and then fired two weeks later in order to appease the tolerance mob.
Williamson is not alone. The same thing happened to me just a few years ago.
With Barack Obama running for re-election, the 2012 Iowa Caucuses were a one-sided affair. After the election, I got a call from the then-editor of the Des Moines Register’s op-ed section. He was looking to add some ideological diversity to his editorial pages and thought I would be a good fit for three reasons:
1) I was well known by Iowa conservatives.
2) I had proven on cable news programs that I could disagree without being disagreeable.
3) Before transitioning to talk radio, I was a sportswriter for the Register. So I understood the culture there and could fit in more easily than an outsider.
Over lunch, he tried to sell me on adding “Des Moines Register columnist” to my duties alongside “nationally syndicated radio host.” He told me he thought the paper needed someone like me, because it did not adequately capitalize on having such a high-profile event like the Iowa Caucuses in its own backyard.
“We’re known as a liberal paper,” he told me. “And so Republican readers didn’t even pay attention to what we had to say.”
I responded by asking, “Why don’t you just stop pretending to be objective and follow in the footsteps of MSNBC?” That network was even using Obama’s “forward” campaign branding as its own. “Just openly advocate as a liberal news source and write off conservatives altogether?”
His reply was succinct: “We can’t because there’s not enough liberals.”
From there, we hammered out the details for me to join the paper. Later, the paper ran a front-page article announcing my addition as a columnist, with my first piece slated to be featured that Sunday.
Then the paper went silent.
I had already submitted that first column to the op-ed page editor before we came to an agreement, so the editors knew what I was going to say and signed off on it. My first column actually wasn’t going to critique the Left, but our state’s Republican governor for failing to keep his campaign promises. Here’s how it opened:
At a time when this state desperately needs a return to the principles in its platform, the current leadership of the Republican Party in Iowa has become so compromised, incompetent, and cowardly, it has managed to effectively nullify the results of the midterm elections that swept it into power in the first place.
The Democrats didn’t do this. The “liberal media” didn’t do this. The leadership of the Republican Party of Iowa has done this to itself.
Governor Terry Branstad has failed to keep his campaign promises to defund Planned Parenthood and shrink the size of government. Instead, he is funding Planned Parenthood, funding abortions with taxpayer dollars in cases of “fetal deformity,” and proposes growing state government $200 million more than his Democrat predecessor did.
Sunday came and went, and despite the promotion on the front page earlier in the week, my column never ran. I waited several days — nothing. The brass never said anything to anyone about what happened to the columnist they had just bragged about on the front page. The self-proclaimed “newspaper Iowa depends upon” skipped right past fake news and acted as if it had published imaginary news.
After a few days, I finally followed up with the chief editor, because it was clear he was the one making the decisions here, not the guy who had originally recruited me. It was a conversation that sounded right out of the movie “Office Space,” with the chief editor in the real-life role of Gary Cole’s feckless and condescending manager.
I asked what happened to the column, and he told me, “Um, yeah, about that, we need to hire some additional reporters for high school football season, so adding you is no longer in the budget.”
When I asked him why the paper hadn’t notified me or the audience about its sudden change of plans, he had no answer except his regret that they hadn’t cleared this with their budget people first. It was then that I decided to call his bluff.
“Oh, I understand tight budgets these days,” I politely told him. “So I tell you what, how about I write the column for nothing for a month. That way it won’t cost you anything, and you can save face with your audience. I wouldn’t want you guys to be accused of misleading people. And then, after a month, if the column gains traction we can talk compensation then. If not, you can just let me go, say you gave it a try, and it just didn’t work for whatever reason.”
There was a long pause on the other end. Clearly he had not anticipated that I wasn’t a fool. Or else he was one.
“Um, I don’t think we can do that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s legal for you to write for us for nothing.”
Once more, I called him on his horse puckey in a cheerful tone.
“Oh, it’s certainly legal,” I told him. “See, I’m not an employee. Our memo of understanding has me as the vendor here, and you’re the distributor. Since you’re distributing my intellectual property, as the vendor I get to decide what it’s worth. And right now, I’m telling you it’s worth nothing to start with. So you have nothing to lose, and again you don’t have to be accused of misleading your readers. Take it for free for now, and then throw me under the bus later if you must.”
After another awkward pause, he told me he would check with the powers that be and get back to me. Needless to say, the paper never contacted me again.
As Kevin Williamson can now attest, and my story reinforces, those who scream “tolerance” and “diversity” the loudest don’t really mean what they say.