Simon & Schuster’s decision to cut ties with Sen. Josh Hawley might be worthy of criticism, but does it constitute an “Orwellian” affront to free speech? The book publisher canceled plans to issue Hawley’s new book The Tyranny of Big Tech over Hawley’s role in challenging electors from states that Joe Biden won, and the part that played in the Capitol Hill riot on Wednesday. Hawley’s raised-fist salute to the crowd before they stormed the building has made him a particular target for critics, apparently including his former publishing partners:
This photo—of Josh Hawley cheering on the protestors right before they stormed the Capitol—basically sums up the political era. pic.twitter.com/ItXuF1KYW5
— Brian Goldsmith (@GoldsmithB) January 6, 2021
— Simon & Schuster (@simonschuster) January 7, 2021
Hawley offered the kind of measured response one might expect in this situation. He accused Simon & Schuster of being part of a “woke mob,” which is one of the worst rhetorical choices one could make after Wednesday:
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) January 7, 2021
I’m not the first person to point this out, but accusing a book publisher for being part of a “mob” after fist-saluting the soon-to-be rioters on Capitol Hill is chef’s kiss perfect for cluelessness and tone-deafness. That rhetorical idiocy alone should disqualify a writer from a major book deal. Did Hawley bother to think for a single moment before issuing that tweet?
There is nothing “Orwellian” about a book publisher deciding that their new author is too toxic to publish. There’s nothing terribly courageous about it either, though, a point that shouldn’t get lost in Hawley’s ridiculous hyperbole. Publishing a book does not confer an endorsement of character, even when publishing autobiographies or defenses of controversial figures. Simon & Schuster is virtue signaling on the cheap by canceling Hawley’s contract, especially since it appears that the topic at hand has little or nothing to do with this controversy. That’s worthy of some criticism, to be sure.
However, shrieking about this as a “direct assault on the First Amendment” is not just absurd, it’s almost self-disqualifying for public office. It’s one thing to hear something that ignorant from some rando on Twitter, but Hawley is supposed to be an attorney and a US Senator with some familiarity with the Constitution. The First Amendment does not confer a right to have someone else publish your campaign tome. Hawley has the right to speak, but not the “right” to force Simon & Schuster to amplify it. To argue otherwise would be to argue that Hawley has a right to seize private property and resources from others for his own purposes, which needless to say would be a pretty weird position for a conservative.
As for Hawley’s contention that “only approved speech can now be published,” maybe he should familiarize himself with the book-publishing process. The privilege of being a senator bypasses some of that, and maybe that’s why Hawley is unfamiliar with the concept of editorial control by publishers over the content they produce. Try submitting a manuscript to a publisher with a note explaining Hawley’s position that they have no right to disapprove it for publication, and see how far your book career goes.
Simon & Schuster took the pusillanimous path in dealing with this. At the same time, however, Hawley is revealing himself to be a hyperbolic clown in office whose voice won’t be missed when his term is up. In fact, perhaps Hawley’s accusations of “Orwellian” declarations can be taken for a case of projection — and Missouri voters can take note of that in the future.