Letter to the Editor: We Need to Define ‘Conservative Publishing’

From Publishers Weekly:

In response to your January 25 story “Houses Divided,” which asks, “In the wake of the events of January 6, will the Big Five think twice about publishing conservative authors?,” it’s important to clarify what publishers mean when they say conservative and why it is that your article and the phrase “conservative publishing” misrepresents exactly what critics take issue with. The fact is, while it may have taken Simon & Schuster a little over 24 hours to change course on its publication of Josh Hawley’s forthcoming book The Tyranny of Big Tech, it took exactly seven business days for Regnery Publishing, which coincidentally is distributed by Simon & Schuster, to acquire it.

Hawley’s response to his contract cancellation included an accusation of the violation of his First Amendment rights. This is a sentiment echoed by some in the industry, who view the responsibility to publish a wide range of viewpoints as a First Amendment issue. S&S is not the American government or a public institution and therefore does not fall under the protection of the First Amendment.

As cultural institutions, publishing houses certainly have a responsibility to document the many faces of society, including the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump. However, the framing of these viewpoints is an even more daunting task. From an innocent pat on the former president’s head by a late-night television host to the publication of a noted transphobic professor, the output of cultural institutions has an impact on the collective consciousness of American society. When the messenger upholds the dehumanization of Black, Indigenous, racialized, LGBT+, and disability communities, their message can and has led to violence against these communities.

For many years, publishers have been quietly profiting off of this violence and vitriol, all the while systematically excluding those on the receiving end from the publishing world. And even in the last decade when strides have been made, largely led by a “new generation” of publishing professionals and smaller indie publishers, to be more inclusive of minority communities both in books and offices, these “controversial” authors have continued to be published under the cloak of “conservative” presses.

The demise of “conservative” publishing is being framed as an issue of liberalism v. conservatism or left v. right. This is not only wrong but dangerous rhetoric. Younger industry members are not calling for the halt to reprints of Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman or the muzzling of Grover Norquist, for a more contemporary example. Conservative houses and imprints like Regnery are responsible for publishing and giving a platform to a particular brand of conservative: far right and inflammatory.

Grouping the Norquists of conservatism with Josh Hawley, Jordan Peterson, and former president Trump and his administration normalizes the spread of misinformation and harmful stereotypes. It continues to frame the discontent of the critics of these titles as “silencing opinions” rather than forcing publishers to contend with the actual harm that is done when they give a platform to these writers. Finally, it also builds a readership that publishers are profiting from while turning a blind eye to the culture they have chosen to curate.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG hesitated before deciding to excerpt from the OP.

For those outside of the United States, in PG’s observation and experience, the nation is more riven now than at any time since those who objected to the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War and the accompanying drafting of young men who strongly opposed the war into the Army to go fight it were demonstrating and rioting in a variety of places across the country.

Many demonstrations were peaceful while others either transitioned from peaceful to violent or included a violent component in them from the start. The extent and vitriol of the protests caused one American president to decline to run for reelection due to the virulent hatred of him manifested by a large number of Americans, particularly those who were fighting in Vietnam or were concerned about being drafted into fighting that war.

Among PG’s age cohort during that time period, it seemed that almost everyone knew someone who had died in Vietnam. For PG, it was an acquaintance who was a hear behind him in high school, a pretty ordinary and low-key guy who started working on his father’s farm after graduation, then was drafted and went to Vietnam.

The army assigned him to carry a flame-thrower into combat. PG understands that it was a terrifying weapon for the enemy, throwing out tongues of flame a hundred feet or more long that incinerated almost anything they they touched.

Unfortunately for PG’s high school acquaintance, carrying a flame-thrower entailed strapping on a pair of tanks that contained highly-flammable gelled liquid that provided fuel for the flames. The word that came back from Vietnam was that PG’s acquaintance had probably died when a heavy bullet hit his tanks, causing a massive fireball than instantly incinerated him. The coffin sent back to his family was firmly sealed.

It took a long time for traditional publishers to begin publishing books by angry former soldiers about their experience in Vietnam in part because the political establishment in the United States had supported Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in their Vietnam policies. That establishment included traditional publishing and a lot of others in positions of cultural power in New York City, Washington DC, etc.

The control of traditional publishing in the United States is still held by the same class and type of people who have controlled it for a long time. As happens with many people who live within a limited geographical space, a relatively narrow sphere of acquaintance and experience, people who work in publishing seldom hang around with those whose political and/or cultural opinion differs from their own.

People who are like those who work in publishing and their social associates tend to publish books reflecting the values of that slice of the United States. These days, they may be willing to publish books by angry racial minorities who excoriate those who are perceived to be oppressing them directly, indirectly or by simply existing. These would be the right kind of radicals or protesters.

However, traditional publishing is highly intolerant of anyone like “the Norquists of conservatism with Josh Hawley, Jordan Peterson, and former president Trump and his administration” and believe that such persons should not be permitted to spread their ideas among those the publishers think of as the sort of people who will purchase the right kind of books and keep traditional publishers from sinking for a bit longer.

It’s a cultural decision, not a monetary one. After all, a significant number among the despicables have money and read and will buy books they think they will enjoy.

31 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: We Need to Define ‘Conservative Publishing’”

  1. The real danger to free speech will be when the digital store fronts begin deciding which books are allowed to be published based on political opinions or the arbitrary definition of “dangerous views”.

    • It has started.
      Covered here.
      Several catfights have happened, pro and con, over the availability of “certain” books on online bookstores.
      The most recent caused an obscure book to explode in sales when the author used his online contacts to highlight an attempt to force the retailer to cancel him.
      Classic Streisand effect.

  2. One wonders what alternate timeline the author of the OP is writing from. The idea that tradpub has been systematically excluding sexual and racial minorities while offering support to those who dehumanize said minorities is completely ridiculous if you bother to actually look at what gets published and who the heroes and villains of the books are. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a book that has a protagonist that is either a member of such a minority or is presented as what progressives would call an “ally” of such a minority.
    The probability of finding a tradpub novel with a heroic protagonist that does not wholly embrace the doctrines of early 21st-century progressivism, however, is virtually nil.

  3. Even I hesitate to add fuel to the fire of the current… let’s call it “debacle”… in the US, esp. on a site not my own.

    I will observe that it is almost impossible to change someone’s mind about generally held and unexamined assumptions. For someone to do so requires:

    1) A willingness to consider that there might be more than one legitimate point of view.
    2) A willingness to test one’s assumptions and beliefs at the “content” level, vs the “endorsement” (“who else thinks these things”) level.
    3) A willingness to internally commit to potentially changing one’s mind if investigation proves “disturbing” to one’s previously unexamined views.
    4) A willingness to internally acknowledge admitting a change of mind if such should occur.
    5) A willingness to externally acknowledge (4), to one’s peers.

    I’m no more moral, I expect, than the next person, but I may be more bloody minded, and that has certainly helped. I’m sure my assumptions may be wrong from time to time in this world of imperfect knowledge, but I long ago decided that “f*ck my peers — I’ll make up my own mind on things to the degree that it seems to be possible.” I had stopped believing in experts based purely on credentials by the time I was 10 years old switching schools, and I have never looked back.

    This does not make you many casual friends (esp. for girls), and it was a young and conscious choice on my part. The experience was transforming, almost the way I expect a religious conversion would be — that I would try to think for myself wherever possible and be prepared to defend my thoughts, whether or not they were popular. (Translated into 11-year-old-ese as “you can’t make me cry — I dare you to try.”) This does gain you respect, but that’s not a very warm feeling for one’s teenage years.

    I have turned down management positions that “smelled” dishonest, when I needed the work. I have refused endorsements for things I couldn’t trust. Etc. It’s not that these were difficult choices, really, once you’ve taken the big step (“you couldn’t live with yourself if you…”). But I don’t really know very many people like this. I was very lucky to marry one. One learns to scorn the convictions of one’s acquaintances who have no qualms about unexamined beliefs, but you have to bring along your own conviction that all beliefs are worth examining (and debating), and if you’re the only one who thinks that way well, then, so be it — that’s the life you choose.

    But, really, as they say… the unexamined life is not worth living. Do we really care what NY Publishing thinks?

    What is happening at the moment in the US is, I think, a newly-inspired “bloody-mindedness” in a previously unawakened portion of the population. They’re in for a rough ride, but there’s more “outlaw support” out there than there used to be and — who knows — things might just get interesting.

    • Agreed on all counts.
      One of the earliest lessons my mother taught me it is that “It is better to walk alone than to keep the wrong company”. And the wrong company isn’t hard to identify.

      As for the Seldon Crisis around us (it’s not just coming; it’s here), the one thing that rings all sorts of alarms for me isn’t cancel culture and the other absolutist leveler notions floating around. The US has always had a puritanical bent, especially among the self-proclaimed elites, and an answering populist stream. (The Whiskey rebellion was no outlier nor was prohibition. Both are recurring follies.)
      What really concerns me is the massive sales last summer of guns and more critical *ammo*. The guns because a major portion of tbe boosted sales weren’t going to members of the “gun culture” but rather were “self defense” first guns to big city and suburban dwellers. More concerning is the massive hoarding of ammo. First guns are usually “security blankets” that usually end up in a gun safe. But ammo… Ammo stockpiles are bought expecting to use tgem and not always in a gun range. And no, it’s not just “conservatives”. A good portion of the new sales are to liberals feeling a certain “insecurity” after a summer of encouraged riots.

      And along those lines, if you enjoy dark humor and “black comedy” along the lines of THE WAR OF THE ROSES, dig up the much maligned THE HUNT. Not only is it apropos of the times, but it also very, very good. It spares nobody (as befits a good dark comedy) and it has (ahem) a killer of a punch line. Much like JOKER it is nothing like the media and handwringers made it out to be without watching it. You just need an open mind to appreciate them both.
      Oh, and Betty Gilpin is awesome in THE HUNT.

      • Ammunition buying patterns changed around 2010 when the federal government began increasing non-miitary stockpiles far beyond what they had ever been. This reduced civilian supply, and increased prices.

        The accompanying calls by anti-gun advocates to increase the practice to choke off more civilian supply created a perfect hoarding storm. The same thing happens with any good when consumers perceive a lack of future supply. Hoarding increases demand in the face of rising prices.

        The result is prices have never come down from the levels they went up to in 2010 and 2011. Each subsequent shooting and calls for gun and ammunition controls only increases demand for both.

        Add pandemic and uncertainty from last summer’s riots, and demand increases. Each event wipes out store inventories of both guns and ammunition. The latest was January 6. (The local Bass Pro shop had to set up a rope line at the gun counter to control the number of consumers.)

        Currently, ammunition prices are at least double what they were in 2019.

        One might think the high ammunition prices reduce people going to the ranges. No. Ranges are more crowded than they have ever been.

        Sixteen states now have constitutional carry laws, yet nationwide applications for carry permits continue to rise. And FBI checks? They are at daily record numbers.

        What were things like before 2010? People just bought ammunition as they needed it.

        • And with the Texas fool promising to take away guns the hoarding will continue. Nothing promotes gun and ammo sales than blue wins.
          What’s unusual this time is the number of liberal newcomers buying. It’s a literal powder keg.

  4. Free speech has got to be the most misunderstood principle ever. It doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want and people have to listen. It doesn’t mean you are OWED a platform. Twitter banning someone or a publisher dropping an author is not attacking their free speech.

    Free speech means the government can’t put you in prison for what you say. There are some countries that do that, ya know.

      • Yep. A verbal threat can be considered a crime. Can you be put in jail for it? “Wait a bit.”

        Also, under the UCMJ (military law), members of the armed forces have less free speech, less free press, and less freedom to assemble.

        • Given up freely, though. And temporarily.
          Students?
          Not so much.

          Some want military rules for everybody. Forever.
          Freedom…from inconvenient facts. From dissent. Shut up and consume. Just don’t forget to vote for the correct party. Or else.

          Might yet come to pass under the rule of 50% plus 1 (votes).
          From there it’s but a small step to “one man, one vote…once.”

          Suppression of disent doesn’t have to come from the government. Officially.

    • Free speech is an ideal. It is expressed in the US Constitution in the First Amendment as a limit on government. However, the US Constitution does not control the idea of free speech. Nor does it fully encompass the idea. The idea came before the Constitution. The idea exists where the US Constitution has no authority.

      Other expressions of the ideal are more expansive, and extend beyond the realm of government..

    • Twitter does selective banning of people, usually of those who attack the “official dogma” of the Left. Twitter allows despots and those who endorse wholeheartedly and blindly accept the new now (e.g. open borders, illegal immigrants, transgenderism, the BDS movement) w/o fear of retribution. So yes, Twitter banning someone is an attack on free speech.

      I can 100% guarantee that I can signup for that cesspool called Twitter, make exactly one post, say about Matthew Shepherd that is rooted completely in fact, and get permanently banned, simply because I deviate from what is the “official” dogma about the late Mr. Shepherd.

    • “Build your own platform,” they said.

      “It’s a free market,” they said.

      “The first ammendment doesn’t apply to private companies,” they said. “Private companies can do whatever they want.”

      And then Amazon colluded with multiple vendors to take down Parler and destroy it, on the pretext that Parler had provided a platform for the protesters to organize the storming of the Capitol on January 6th. Never mind that those posts violated Parler’s TOS, and they were working as hard as they could to take them down.

      Well, guess what? When the FBI investigated they issue, they found that a grand total of eight of the people involved with storming the Capitol had actually used Parler to coordinate the attack. Eight. The vast majority of the violent protesters used… wait for it… Twitter to plan and organize it. Yet Twitter is still up, while Parler is still down.

      The government doesn’t need to violate our free speech rights when private companies will do their dirty work for them. Especially when those private companies are government-sanctioned monopolies and cartels.

      But hey, you can always just build your own platform, right?

  5. As cultural institutions, publishing houses certainly have a responsibility to document the many faces of society, including the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump.

    As cultural institutions? What does that mean. These are companies financed by people trying to make money.

    I agree they have no more obligation to publish conservatives than they have to publish a diverse collection of authors.

    • The trouble is, these companies are staffed largely by people who have bought into the idea that their employers are ‘cultural institutions’, and accept lower pay in exchange for the attendant prestige.

      Unfortunately, that sort of person is liable to be both (a) from a privileged background, hence able to live in Manhattan during an unpaid internship after getting an otherwise useless English degree, and (b) financially illiterate. This leaves them wide open to the blandishments of any elitist ideologue who tells them they are the sort of people who should be in charge, and society is therefore intrinsically unjust. And ideologues are notoriously not the sort of people who feel ‘a responsibility to document’ any point of view but their own.

      • And if they find a way to mobilize masses of cancellers and rioters it doesn’t matter if they are in the official government or not; they become de-facto rulers of speech regardles of the letter of the law.
        Legality is merely the lowest tolerable standard of a society.
        Morality and ethics are more important as they control the defacto reality.

        The old saw still applies: “Freedom of speech belongs to those that own the presses.”
        Or, the platforms, as recent events have proven.
        And what starts outside government doesn’t stay outside:

        https://nypost.com/2021/01/13/aoc-other-progressives-have-a-new-goal-silence-the-press/
        Absolutists don’t stop at anything less than 100% control. So yes, the principle needs defending everywhere, with alternate platforms, if need be.

        McCarthy would be proud at how smoothly dissent has become “misinformation”.

        • I went looking for a good example from prior events and found this.

          Congress Shall Make No Law
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq8VK3H6k4Q

          All the examples of twisting and misuse of terms is in the clip.

          What always fascinates me, is how clear the comments are from the person testifying, and how the politician is only interested in giving their soundbite. This seems to happen every time.

          • Youtube Purged it, apparently.
            But it’s a common enough occurence for IdiotPoliticians ™ to drag in “witnesses” and then not let them get a word in edgewise. Or call them in on one pretext and then cajole them on a different subject or use them as props for a campaign video.
            They’re politicians, what can you expect?

        • The old saw still applies: “Freedom of speech belongs to those that own the presses.”

          And freedom comes from those who own the guns. Not pretty, but neither is history.

    • (Sigh) So its time for a Purge, huh?

      1- Does the part about “caging children” include the Obama administration, who started the policy? Or are some animals more equal?

      2- Joseph McCarthy would be proud, regardless.

      3- There will be other elections that aren’t fronted by orange dudes. What goes around and all that.

      Sign of the times.

      • 1 – Obama didn’t have a policy separating families. That started with Trump.

        The fact that you made that claim is something I find troublesome.

        The reason is that it’s part of a propaganda message from the right wing that posits, “Obama built those cages so he started this!” which is dishonest… he didn’t have that policy… and, yes, while that administration did build cages, there was no family separation policy, nor did he “fill” those cages.

        That family separation policy came straight from Steven Miller and Trump. It was done to discourage refugees, and they stole thousands of children, some of whom still haven’t been reunited with their parents.

        Again, this isn’t hard information to find and verify, if you choose. That you haven’t (and I note you linked above to a NY Post story, the NY Post being a very unreliable right wing foghorn) is problematic for folks who are interested in honest discourse.

        • And the cages were builtfor pets, not undocumenteds, right?
          Sure…
          The policy was in place since before the orange dude. That’what the cages were built for.

          Oh, and Obama didn’t deport more that any president before either, right?

          BTW, a Purge and making people unemployable because of their service to the federal government is just fine and dandy, too, right?

          Next!

          • Felix.

            The cages were built for prisoners, yes. And Obama did deport more undocumented people than any other president, yes.

            But he did NOT start the family separation policy, as you stated. You made a false statement, and you’re switching up to avoid your responsibility for that.

            In terms of Purge, I don’t know what you mean. If you mean, Trump people aren’t able to find work, that’s understandable, as that a number of them are tainted by legal concerns, which are real.

            There are a ton of other things, too, but no one is obligated to hire anyone, just like no one is obligated to publish Woody Allen’s book.

            I mean, you keep switching the goalposts in terms of what we’re discussing, I’m not talking about the purge, per se.

            I’m talking about your false statement regarding Obama enacting a family separation policy at the border, which he didn’t.

            That policy was enacted by Trump specifically to discourage REFUGEES, who are supposed to present themselves at the border.

            I think you should do more research on this, or just not talk about it, if you’re not going to dialogue in good faith.

        • (and I note you linked above to a NY Post story, the NY Post being a very unreliable right wing foghorn)

          As opposed to the numerous very unreliable left-wing foghorns, which presumably one may link to with perfect confidence?

          There are no politically neutral media.

          • I didn’t claim there was political neutral media. I claimed that Post is an unreliable mouthpiece of right wing PROPAGANDA for Murdoch, and one needs to keep that in mind.

            I’m actually not a fan of The NY Times, either, for the most part, and feel they’re often biased, too, but they’re more reliable than the Post.

            I link to pieces that are accurate, I don’t link to pieces based on their political affiliation. That being said, these days the right wing has far exceeded the left when it comes to false and deliberate misinformation.

            It exists on the left, too, but not to the extent of the right.

            Claiming both sides are the same is a lazy way of saying, I just want to believe what I want to believe and not do the work to figure out who is more accurate.

        • Obama didn’t have a policy separating families. That started with Trump.

          Agree. He jammed them all in the same cage.

    • Count as of 2/9/21: 593….? That’s it? So few really do not represent the majority of us in the publishing industry. Big corporate publishing will go away if they don’t get back to serving their customers more than their own self-righteousness.

      • Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone copy-pasted a bunch of randomly generated names just to pad that 593 number.

        Cancel culture is toxic. Its sole redeeming quality is that it ultimately cancels itself.

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