The Precipitous, Alarming Decline of Free Speech

Simon & Schuster (S&S) may have had the right to drop a book written by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, on essentially political grounds.

But the act of doing so conjures up unpleasant images of suppression of unpopular and political speech.

The move is even more alarming as social media giants this week exercised their awesome power to silence the voices of American conservatives, from GOP President Donald Trump to Gen. Michael Flynn, ostensibly because they pose a threat of violence. (It may be purely coincidental that Trump recently sought to remove the platforms’ legal protection from lawsuits.)

But it feels different when a publisher silences an author. Perhaps because publishers historically championed unpopular books and authors.

Ironically, Hawley’s book is entitled, The Tyranny of Big Tech.

Not The First Time

This isn’t the first time S&S has cancelled a book by a conservative author.

In 2016, S&S cancelled a six-figure book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay British right-wing commentator and Breitbart editor. Yiannopoulos’ fall from grace came after a conservative blog posted video footage of him making comments that seemed to rationalize pedophilia. He also was fired by Breitbart.

Despite the circumstances, members of the media and publishing industry expressed concern about S&S’ cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ book.

A writer for Publisher’s Weekly, Rachael Deahl, spoke to publishing industry members on the condition of anonymity. “[S]ome saw a disconcerting connection between the book’s cancellation and the free speech battles erupting on liberal college campuses across the country,” she wrote.

Deahl quoted an agent as stating:  “At a time that cries out for transparency, you would think [people in this industry] would want to celebrate the First Amendment, rather than trying to circumscribe it.”

Unlike Yiannopoulos, Sen. Hawley was a golden boy up to and until he questioned the integrity of the Presidential election, along with an estimated three quarters of Republican voters and one fifth of Democratic voters.

In a statement, S&S said: “As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time 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.”

The publishing giant was referring to the riot at the Capitol building on Jan. 6, while the legislature met to certify the electors in the Presidential election. S&S did not say why Hawley, who exercised his legal right to object to electors in states where there is evidence of serious voter fraud, bears responsibility for the riot.

Hawley said his book was cancelled because he was “representing my constituents, leading a debate on the senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition… This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of.”

Consolidation of U.S. Publishing

In recent years, America’s publishing industry, like the media in general, has undergone a radial consolidation leaving ever fewer options for speech.

S&S is set to be purchased by Bertelsmann, a private multinational conglomerate based in Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Bertelsmann won a bidding war for S&S in November, when it offered pay ViacomCBS $2.175 billion for S&S. The sale is subject to regulatory approval.

The Author’s Guild opposes the sale because it “would mean that the combined publishing house would account for approximately 50% of all trade books published, creating a huge imbalance in the publishing industry.” Bertelsmann also owns America’s largest publisher, Penguin Random House.

The American Booksellers Association called the purchase “alarming” and said it will give “vastly too much power over the U.S. book market in the hands of a single, foregn-owned corporation.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute, said “Bertelsmann’s plan to take control of Simon & Schuster poses multiple dangers to American democracy and to the interests of America’s authors and readers.”

It should be good news for Hawley that Yiannopoulos’ self-published his book in 2017 under the title Dangerous. He claims it sold 200,000 copies “despite never being reviewed in any major publication.” It has garnered 3,402 five-star ratings on and ranks #80 in Internet & Social Media Humor and #136 in political humor books. (I haven’t read it but it seems rather ghastly.)

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