BY KATE FLAHERTY '19
On February 20, Simon & Schuster announced that they were canceling their book deal with conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. Just a few months before, in December 2016, Yiannopoulos “struck a “$250,000 book deal with Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. According to Adi Robertson, who writes for The Verge, the book — called “Dangerous” — was supposed to be about “covering issues of free speech,” and was set for release in early June of 2017. Yiannopoulos is well-known for making controversial and often offensive comments, in particular about women and minorities. Simon & Schuster’s move to accept the deal with Yiannopoulos was questionable considering this history.
The deal caused a nationwide call to boycott the publishing company, and prompted disgusted responses from authors such as Tim Federle and Rainbow Rowell, both of whom have titles pub- lished under Simon & Schuster. According to The Progress Index, Roxane Gay, who wrote the best-selling book of essays “Bad Feminist,” decided to pull her upcoming book from the company in early February. She told Buzzfeed that although she was supposed to turn in a book, she “kept thinking about how egregious it is to give someone like Milo a platform for his blunt, inelegant hate and provocation.”
Despite the protests of both authors and readers, Simon & Schuster did not budge. Robertson wrote that the publishing company said they often publish a “wide range of authors with greatly varying, and frequently controversial, opinions.” Simon & Schuster is a large publishing operation. They print about 2,000 titles under 35 different imprints annually, according to their website. “We note that the opinions expressed therein belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees,” Robertson wrote.
The cancellation came shortly after a 2016 videoclip in which Yiannopoulos appears to defend pedophilia resurfaced. Despite his vehement apologies, the vid- eoclip prompted a number of negative responses from companies and conferences, such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, as well as Yiannopoulos’s withdrawal from Breitbart News. While this may seem like a tough blow to Yiannopoulous and a win for those who protested his book deal, this incident shines light on an ugly side of the publishing industry.
Shortly after the withdrawal announcement, Roxane Gay once again com- mented on the problem of Simon & Schuster and Yiannopoulos. She wrote on her Tumblr account that “Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish [him]. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, [they] realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them.” Gay brings up a very important idea in her post: despite Yiannopoulos’s harmful comments about women, people of color, trans- gender people and other marginalized groups on top of his comments regarding pedophilia, Simon & Schuster viewed the withdrawal from a strictly business point of view. Many questions arise from this: what is the line between censorship and freedom of speech? When can a company deny an author because of their opinions? Why was this particular incident a tipping point, and what would have been done had Yiannopoulos continued to make offensive comments about women or minorities?
The policy that Simon & Schuster seems to live by — that the opinions of their authors do not reflect their ideals, and they frequently publish works with controversial opinions — potentially marks the start of something dangerous. While the ideas of the authors may not necessarily reflect the ideas of the company, it nevertheless offers a platform for ideas like Milo Yiannopoulos’s to be spread rapidly. In a society where violence against minorities is increasing, and alt-right citizens are becoming more emboldened, sharing such violent and hateful ideas puts people like Muslim Americans, members of the LGBTQ community and women at risk. This should make everyone, not just authors and readers, consider where the line should be drawn between censorship and freedom of speech.