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.
Adrian Zackheim, publisher of Penguin Random House’s conservative Sentinel imprint spells it out: “Publishing to the opposition presents us with a huge opportunity.” That opportunity is profit over people.
Elham Ali and Anita Ragunathan
ECW Press, Toronto