Simon & Schuster has canceled its planned June publication of The Tyranny of Big Tech by Sen. Josh Hawley.
The junior U.S. Senator from Missouri, a Republican, was the first senator who objected to the Electoral College results declaring Joe Biden the president-elect of the United States after winning the 2020 presidential election. The objections triggered a debate in Congress on January 6 that became the target of the armed insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol in apparent response to rhetoric by Trump and his allies, including Hawley.
S&S said it canceled publication “after witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.” In its statement, the publisher said that it did not “come to this decision lightly,” and noted it weighed its mission as a publisher to amplify a variety of voices with its “public responsibility as citizens." It was that latter responsibility, the statement continued, that convinced company management that S&S “cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”
In response, Hawley released his own statement on Twitter, describing the cancellation of his book as "Orwellian" and his erstwhile publisher as a "woke mob." He added: "Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It's a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published." (The First Amendment protects the right to free speech, but not the right to a platform, or to be paid for the publication of that speech.) S&S, responding to Hawley's statement, replied that it was "confident" that its decision to cancel the book was "fully within our contractual rights."
Shortly after the riots at the Capitol calmed down Wednesday night, social media was filled with speculation over whether S&S would go ahead with publication of Tyranny given Hawley’s role in looking to overturn the election results.
On Thursday morning an author writing under the pseudonym of Celeste Pewter, who works for an elected official in her day job, launched a social media campaign urging her friends and followers in the publishing community to contact S&S and complain about Hawley's book. Her Twitter campaign received more than 700,000 impressions by Thursday evening.
Pewter said that she launched the campaign after witnessing via television the events that occurred in the Capitol Wednesday. "We must do our part in holding the people responsible for such violence accountable. I wanted to take a stand as a member of the writing community: Hawley should not be given a platform. It's clear he does not take responsibility for what happened. He continued anyway yesterday evening with his objections, despite knowing he was the first senator coming forward with the allegations that caused such violence. He was unrepentant," Pewter explained.
Josh Hawley has a book coming from Simon & Schuster this June.— Constance Grady (@constancegrady) January 6, 2021
What responsibility does publishing bear for platforming and profiting off of incitements to violence? https://t.co/XkqyIEe5kX https://t.co/a5e6iEGdof
Hawley’s book, still listed for sale on Amazon as of Thursday evening, argues for a new approach to controlling the power of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and other technology giants. These companies, the marketing blurb reads, “are threatening America’s republican form of government. To reverse the concentration of these companies, which define our era, Senator Hawley argues that we must correct the mistakes of the progressive past and recover a more truly republican politics, a politics premised on the importance of the working man and woman.”
NCAC Says S&S Wrong to Cancel
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) issued a statement Friday saying it was “deeply concerned” with S&S’s decision to cancel the Hawley book. While saying it shares the outrage against the mop that attacked the Capitol as well as those, such as Hawley, who fed the mob, NCAC said killing the deal “weakens free expression.”
“American publishers play a critical role in our democracy by disseminating the books that inspire the public debate that shapes our future,” the statement continued. “Many of the books–and many of the authors–are highly controversial and generate intense opposition. When that happens, it is crucial that publishers stand by their decision to publish, even when they strongly disagree with something the author has said. Canceling a book encourages those who seek to silence their critics, producing more pressure on publishers, which will lead to more cancellations. The best defense for democracy is a strong commitment to free expression.”
This article has been updated with further information.