Blacklists Are the Rage in Publishing

From The Wall Street Journal:

I am an independent book publisher, and in recent days I have been taking calls from journalists asking which authors I would refuse to publish. That’s an odd question to ask an American publisher, but suddenly it seems to be on everyone’s mind in our industry. Some 250 self-described “publishing professionals”—mostly junior employees of major houses—have issued a statement titled “No Book Deals for Traitors,” a category in which they include any “participant” in the Trump administration.

Readiness to silence someone because of who he is or whom he associates with is often called the “cancel culture,” but I prefer an older term—blacklisting—whose historical associations expose the ugliness of what is going on. Not so long ago, publishing professionals would have been horrified to be accused of it. Today they compete to see who can proclaim his blacklist with the fiercest invective.

On Jan. 6, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri invoked his legal right to object to Congress’s certification of electoral votes. Reasonable people can disagree whether his act was noble or cynical, courageous or rash, but no one can reasonably argue that he intended to incite that afternoon’s invasion of the Capitol by a lawless mob. He immediately and forcefully condemned the attack. But the next day Simon & Schuster canceled his forthcoming book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” citing the senator’s “role in what became a dangerous threat.”

I started getting calls from reporters in effect daring me not to join the blacklisters and from publishers, editors and agents who wondered when and how the mob would come for them.

The founder of my publishing house, Henry Regnery, proudly called himself a “dissident publisher.” The conservative books to which he devoted his fortune and career were no more in favor in 1951, when he published William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale,” than they have been during my own 25 years in this business. But blacklisting then, though real, was discreet. Everyone knew it was un-American. No one was proud of it.

An independent publisher is vulnerable to today’s Jacobins in many ways, for it relies on large partners to print, distribute and sell its books. Now that dissent from the latest version of progressive orthodoxy is equated with violence and treason, my colleagues and I know we could be next. But we choose to fight back.

We’re proud to publish Mr. Hawley’s book, which his original publisher has made more important than ever. We don’t have to agree with everything—or anything—Mr. Hawley does. We ask only if his book is well-crafted and has something true and worthwhile to say. The answer is yes.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG notes that those who would censor or silence political speech with which they disagree are employing a strategy that has been and is currently being used by the most brutal and intolerant dictatorships in the world’s history. Hitler censored. Stalin censored. Mao Zedong (Mao Tsê-tung) censored. Many who were subject to such censorship were also tortured and killed if they did not first commit suicide.

Such regimes often included censorship in a program that rendered an individual into a nonperson, someone who was banished into non-existence by the dictatorship.

The Nazi term for this was Nacht und Nebel (Night & Fog) under which process a person simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. Family, friends and the populace in general never knew what happened to an individual who received Nacht und Nebel treatment.

Fortunately, traditional publishers lack the power the fascists and Stalin held but the impulse to silence the opinions of or “deplatform” others has experienced a troubling resurgence of late, at least in some myopic intellectual bubbles in the United States.

Regardless of current intellectual fashion, silencing someone with opinions one regards as offensive rather than ignoring them or arguing against their opinions and demonstrating why they are wrong originates in the very dark portions of human nature.

Although PG regards traditional publishing as a business like any other, those who would raise publishing to a more exalted sphere as a “curator of culture” or exemplar of virtuous and enlightened values or even an influential taste-maker (like Kim Kardashian or other any number of other social media superstars) should, in PG’s blue-collar and humble opinion, engage in some serious self-doubt and extended introversion, preferably while engaging in manual labor to help clear their heads.

PG feels much better now, but is going to check the grounds of Casa PG to see if there isn’t some snow-shoveling or tree-trimming or preparing the soil for spring planting to do.

2 thoughts on “Blacklists Are the Rage in Publishing”

  1. Every publisher since Gutenberg has had a blacklist of some kind, of authors deemed too difficult or dangerous to work with. I’ve seen and documented them across twelve of the thirteen publishing industries… and it’s just a matter of documentation in the thirteenth.

    Late-breaking news bulletin: In commercial publishing, some vendors aren’t worth working with even if they’re providing otherwise-acceptable products. Right now, for example, Senator Hawley is no doubt on a blacklist at Simon & Schuster. One wonders whether, say, Harvey Weinstein could get a commercial publishing contract… even at Buena Vista (or perhaps especially there!). And so on. Those are just obvious “newsworthy” examples. Just prior to the start of the Jurassic Era, I was an acquiring editor at a high-prestige-albeit-not-top-of-the-heap academic journal. Three individuals well known in the field were on the publication’s permanent double-secret probation blacklist because they had been repeatedly abusive to staff.

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