Brave words, but one has to wonder how long they will stand. Employees at Simon & Schuster put pressure on their corporate executives to break their two-book contract with former Vice President Mike Pence. Their activist class won an unexpected victory last week when CEO Jonathan Karp pulled out of a deal with one of the officers involved in the Breonna Taylor shooting on Friday, but drew a line in the sand yesterday on the Pence deal:
Some Simon & Schuster employees have circulating a petition asking S&S to cancel VP Mike Pence’s two-book deal and end S&S’s distribution deal with Post Hill Press, which is publishing a book by one of the officers who shot Breonna Taylor. Today S&S said no to those demands. pic.twitter.com/GOo5GN69aQ
— Elizabeth A. Harris (@Liz_A_Harris) April 20, 2021
Kudos to Karp, but even in his firm stand he’s sowing the seeds of his later collapse. While insisting that Simon & Schuster is trying to allow for the maximum number of voices to allow “a healthy part of the dialectic provided by classically liberal publishing companies,” Karp also commits to a path to “change” in the name of “progress.” Karp also describes these employee revolts as “conversations” that “will help us evolve as a company.” Evolve from what — a publisher that offers the full range of viewpoints, into one making those decisions based on employees’ passions at any moment? Why would Karp want that for Simon & Schuster?
That doesn’t sound like a commitment to “classically liberal” values. It sounds more like a momentary stand to cover a tactical retreat from those values. Either that, or it serves as at least a promise that those values are up for negotiation as long as Karp isn’t the first up against the wall come the revolution.
One has to wonder whether Pence’s high profile is the only thing preventing a cave at this point by Karp. Mattingly didn’t have anywhere near the heft of Pence, but he did have a potentially intriguing and under-covered perspective on a hot-button issue — police shootings. Allowing that argument to compete in the public square would be the “classically liberal” choice, even if or especially if the publisher didn’t agree with the argument or the point of view. Instead, Karp canceled Mattingly, using Karp’s own terms in this statement, apparently in the name of “progress” and “chang[ing] our culture for the better.” It’s not difficult to see why Karp’s employees thought they could torpedo Pence’s deal based on Karp’s track record.
The irony here, of course, is that Pence’s books are probably going to be less provocative — and less necessary — than Mattingly’s perspective might have been. Pence isn’t going to burn his bridges to Trumpworld unless he’s decided to retire from politics altogether. Thus far, Pence appears ready to get into the 2024 mix if Trump demurs or is unable to jump in due to his legal problems. If that’s the case, then Pence will offer the company line rather than a Churchillian The Second World War-ish take on his four years as Trump’s VP. Perhaps Pence will surprise, but memoirs from politically active former officeholders rarely have much long-term value.
Give Karp credit for trying, anyway, but the proper way to deal with employee revolts against core business interests is to find new employees. The New York Times and Politico failed to learn that same lesson, and ended up surrendering to the cancel mob on their payrolls. It won’t take more than a few separations for that message to get through, but even this momentary stand speaks volumes about what will come instead, sooner or later.
Update: I edited the “into what” paragraph after realizing I’d left out a clause that was the point of the argument.