Eight free speech and anti-censorship groups are coming to the aid of Simon & Schuster after Chicago Review of Books announced a boycott of the publisher over their decision to put out a book by Milo Yiannopoulos. The groups, which include National Coalition Against Censorship, American Booksellers Association, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, released a statement last week defending the publisher, even though they’re not necessarily fans of Yiannopoulos, because of…shock…free speech!
In the present case, the calls for a boycott stem not from the content of a book, which has not been published, but because of previous statements by the author which critics characterize as hate speech. The Chicago Review of Books has announced its intent to protest the publisher’s decision by refusing to review any books published by Simon & Schuster, even though that would deprive its readers of information about books from more than two dozen Simon & Schuster imprints, including Salaam Reads, which focuses on books with Muslim characters.
This kind of response will have a chilling effect on authors and publishers, which is undoubtedly the goal of those who support such boycotts. However, the suppression of noxious ideas does not defeat them; only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech effectively. Shutting down the conversation may temporarily silence disfavored views, but does nothing to prevent them from spreading and resurfacing in other ways.
Readers are of course free to criticize any book for any reason. They are likewise free to choose not to read any book that they think contains objectionable material, or to urge a boycott. Because other readers may disagree, however, publishers and writers need the freedom to express and disseminate ideas, even if they are controversial and offensive to some. We need not endorse the ideas contained in a book to endorse the right to express them.
This is a wonderful breath of fresh air in the debate between conservatives and leftists on censorship. Both sides tend to flock towards shutting out certain ideas if they believe they’re “offensive” (see South Carolina Republicans wanting to put anti-porn software on all new computers, and Hillary Clinton’s support of V-chips and condemnation of violent video games). NCAC, CBLDF, and others are standing there yelling, “Stop!” to the notion censorship should be encouraged because of Yiannopoulos’ reputation.
Chicago Review of Books isn’t backing down on their decision to boycott Simon & Schuster. Editor-in-Chief Adam Morgan wrote in The Guardian how he’s just operating in the free market.
Some writers, editors and publicists have pointed out that our decision isn’t fair to hundreds of other Simon & Schuster authors who had nothing to do with the publisher’s decision to sign Yiannopoulos. I agree. It’s unfair. Simon & Schuster will publish some wonderful books in 2017 through imprints I admire, such as 37 Ink, Salaam Reads and Touchstone. But I strongly believe the literary community must hold the publisher accountable.
Why? Because rhetoric like his – which targets racial, religious and cultural minorities – invites discrimination. It arguably encourages people such as Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof to think of entire groups of people as less than human. And in his 2012 book The Harm in Hate Speech, legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron writes that hate speech sends a clear message to its victims: “Don’t be fooled into thinking you are welcome here.”
Morgan may believe his publication is “taking a stand” with their boycott, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Yes, Chicago Review of Books has every right to tell Simon & Schuster to go jump in a lake for this year. They are a non-state run media outlet, and covered by freedom of the press in the First Amendment. But it might be better to review the book, and then point out all the fallacies. Why not have someone like George Will or Jonah Goldberg or Nick Gillespie write a review of Yiannopoulos’ book. Or have one of those do a review, then feature one written by Ann Coulter or John Nolte or Eric Bolling. Or, better yet, don’t review Yiannopoulos’ book, but keep publishing other Simon & Schuster books without saying anything unless asked. That would certainly quell any controversy instead of some phony “take a stand” moment. We don’t even know what’s going to be IN the book.
There are plenty of times when so-called “First Amendment” organizations throw off the cloak of “free speech” and demand acceptance inside private businesses (hi ACLU!). It’s good to see National Coalition Against Censorship and others rise to defend someone whose ideology they probably do not support. THAT’S supporting “free speech.”