Following the Capitol riots at the beginning of the year, Simon & Schuster cancelled The Tyranny of Big Tech, a book by Senator Josh Hawley. Hawley, a member of the Republican party and possible future presidential candidate, had been the first senator to announce that he would object to certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win. On the day of the Capitol riots, a widely circulated photo of Hawley raising a fist in solidarity with the rioters prompted accusations that he should be held personally responsible for his actions in fuelling the mob.
This resulted in Simon & Schuster swiftly cancelling his book and addressing their reasons for such when they tweeted:
“After witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington DC, Simon & Schuster has decided to cancel publication of Senator Josh Hawley’s forthcoming book…we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”
Senator Hawley responded by labelling their actions “Orwellian,” calling the cancellation of his contract “a direct assault on the First Amendment.”
This event is another example in the debate over whether or not publishers should claim responsibility over the moral implications of publishing works by incendiary authors. Publishers have often produced books by inflammatory figures without necessarily endorsing their views. For instance, last year Macmillan published the book Speaking for Myself by former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, despite accusations that she spread false information while holding the position. Similarly, Penguin Random House has published several books by conservative pundit Ann Coulter such as If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans and Demonic: How The Liberal Mob Is Endangering America. This is in spite of her controversial comments on topics such as politics, immigration and religion.
On the other hand, the example of Senator Hawley is not the first time in the last few years that authors have been dropped by publishers for moral rather than profit-driven reasons. In 2017, Simon & Schuster dropped Milo Yiannopoulos’ book after it was met with the promise of boycotts when a video of him defending paedophilia circulated online. Similarly, Penguin Random House dropped author Mark Halperin that same year and author James Dashner the year after, both of whom had been accused of sexual harassment. Last year, Hachette staff staged a walkout when Hachette imprint Grand Central planned to publish a memoir by Woody Allen, despite accusations by his daughter that he had molested her as a child. The book was later cancelled as a result.
Even more recently, publishers have proven reluctant to publish the memoirs of Donald Trump, though Simon & Schuster have previously published several anti-Trump books including Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough and former national security advisor John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened. Despite the revenue Trump’s memoirs would bring in, the publisher of such a book would likely attract huge backlash. Already, a letter initially titled ‘No Book Deals for Traitors’ has been created by author Barry Lyga, calling for publishers not to sign book deals with members of the Trump administration. It has been signed by over 500 authors and literary professionals. The letter stresses that America
“is where it is in part because publishing has chased the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people, and has granted those same people both the imprimatur of respectability and a lot of money through sweetheart book deals.”
It goes on to argue that “those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing.”
Events such as this and the cancellation of Senator Hawley’s book, depict a question all publishers have been facing — should publishing be a politically neutral place of free speech no matter how dangerous the results or is it the responsibility of the publisher to put aside profit and not to provide controversial figures with a platform to disseminate their ideas?