After a truly disturbing display of political censorship in the past year, Simon & Schuster Chief Executive Jonathan Karp this week drew a sort of line in the sand.
One would expect a book by former Vice President Mike Pence to be the equivalent of processed cereal but that didn’t stop 216 employees at the nation’s third largest publisher from demanding the company refrain from publishing Pence’s memoir.
In an online petition, they call Pence “a central figure of a presidency that unequivocally advocated for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, islamophobia, antisemitism, and violence. This is not a difference of opinions; this is legitimizing bigotry.”
They forgot to mention that Pence also is the guy who refused to unilaterally halt the certification of electors in the 2020 election, thus earning him the enmity of his boss, GOP President Donald Trump. (It might be interesting to hear Pence’s views on this defining moment?)
In the petition, “Solidarity With the Workforce of Simon and Schuster,” the signers demand S&S cancel any more book deals with former members of the Trump administration. The Wall Street Journal says the petition signers represent about 14% of the S&S workforce.
Delicate Political Situation?
Karp states in an internal letter that S&S’s won’t cancel Pence’s book deal because its core mission includes publishing “a diversity of voices and perspectives.”
However, S&S is owned by ViacommCBS, which finds itself in a delicate situation right now.
ViacommCBS wants to sell S&S to a German company, Bertelsmann SE, for $2.18 billion but needs regulatory approval. The leaders of ViacommCBS may have noticed the harsh backlash from the GOP over the expression of corporate opposition to Georgia’s voting integrity law. Some Republicans have called for boycotts of Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. How would the GOP feel about S&S cancelling Mike Pence?
Clearly, S&S’s commitment to a diversity of perspectives hasn’t stopped it from capitulating to politically-motivated censorship demands in the past.
S&S recently announced that it would not distribute a book written by one of three Louisville police officers involved in the shooting of African American Breonna Taylor. The author, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, was shot during a nighttime “no knock” raid by Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, an alleged drug dealer. Authorities found that Mattingly’s return of fire was justified and he has not been charged. Mattingly’s book is being published by Post Hill Press of Brentwood, TN, an independent conservative publisher that has a distribution deal with S&S. Karp said earlier this month the company had decided not to distribute the Mattingly’s book because S&S’s “commitment” was “in conflict” with Post Hill Press’ “editorial choices.”
In January, Simon & Schuster dropped a book it was scheduled to publish by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, The Tyranny of Big Tech, which was published by another publisher and is now the “#1 New Release in Media & Communications Industry” on Amazon. Hawley’s book was “cancelled” essentially because he questioned the integrity of the 2020 election.
One interesting thing about the Pence petition is its reference to the fact that Pence is a devout Christian. Remember the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, where a high school teacher was accused of violating a Tennessee law that made it unlawful to teach human evolution in a state funded school? We’ve come full circle. The petition signers accuse Pence of “eroding the teaching of science in favor of Christian theology in public-funded schools.”
It is depressing when authors and publishers take up the mantle of censorship because they should know better than anyone that books are ideas and censorship is a tool used by the powerful to suppress unpopular ideas. Among the petition signers was Jesmyn Ward, a two-time winner of the National Book Award for fiction. According to Wikipedia, she is the only woman and only African American to win the National Book Award for Fiction twice.