The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Will Wilkinson is a vice president at the left-leaning Niskanen Center, a contributing writer at The New York Times, and someone who has frequently quarreled with me about so-called cancel culture. (I think it's generally bad when people are fired, expelled, or dragged on social media for saying stupid or poorly phrased things they quickly come to regret; Wilkinson has suggested to me that I've made too much of this problem.)
On Wednesday, Wilkinson tweeted, "If Biden really wanted unity, he'd lynch Mike Pence."
Lynching humor is virtually never a good idea, and this joke was especially badly executed. (Wilkinson said he was making a joke not at the former vice president's expense, but in reference to the Capitol rioters who had expressed a similar sentiment. The joke being that this time it was the far right calling for violence against a Republican official rather than the left.)
Nevertheless, widespread outrage—some of it stoked by conservative news sites like The Federalist and The Daily Caller—ensued on social media. Wilkinson apologized, describing his tweet as a lapse in judgment.
"It was sharp sarcasm, but looked like a call for violence," said Wilkinson. "That's always wrong, even as a joke."
Nevertheless, the Niskanen Center fired Wilkinson and made it clear that they did so explicitly because of the tweet. "The Niskanen Center appreciates and encourages interesting and provocative online discourse," wrote Niskanen President Jerry Taylor in a statement. "However we draw the line at statements that are, or can in any way be interpreted as, condoning or promoting violence."
The New York Times, too, may take action. "Advocating violence of any form, even in jest, is unacceptable and against the standards of The New York Times," a Times spokesperson told Fox News. "We're reassessing our relationship with Will Wilkinson."
And thus a noted doubter of cancel culture has been canceled for a problematic tweet—ironic, but also regrettable, in my view….
There's much more I'd like to quote, but instead let me encourage you to click to read the whole thing.