Opinion | How Simon & Schuster Managed to Make Josh Hawley Look Almost Sympathetic

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Book publisher Simon & Schuster and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) entered into a public contest this week to determine which of them could strike the more hypocritical and self-serving pose.

Simon & Schuster went first, canceling from its summer line-up of new releases Hawley’s book The Tyranny of Big Tech, connecting Hawley’s recent rhetoric to the “deadly insurrection” on Capitol Hill and saying it could not support the senator by publishing his book “after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”

Simon & Schuster didn’t directly accuse Hawley of being one of the glass-breaking, door-busting, looting vandals who rioted their way into and through the Capitol. Its beef was for the pro-Trump way he’s been shooting his mouth off in recent weeks. He was the first senator to object to the certification of Joe Biden’s victory as he trafficked in preposterous theories of election fraud. The closest he came to actually participating in the melee was throwing up a pre-riot clenched fist of solidarity to demonstrators as he approached the east side of the Capitol before the disturbances began. Compared to Trump’s invitations to incitement (and the calls to combat spat out by Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr.), Hawley’s were fairly anodyne.

This isn’t the publisher’s first experience with a hard-right writer. Simon & Schuster is intimate with the ideology, having published Sean Hannity, Candace Owens, Glenn Beck, Roger Stone, Michelle Malkin, Ben Shapiro, Mark R. Levin and others before inking Hawley. To pretend that it didn’t know what species of snake he was before they invited him to write for them strains credulity.

Anybody who has read newspapers or tuned in to Fox News Channel since the 41-year-old joined the Senate two years ago knows his taste for outré, Trumpist-tinged political views. Indeed, in giving Hawley a contract, Simon & Schuster surely made itself aware of the senator’s Trump affinity. Perhaps they never predicted that Hawley’s politics would help incite a violent bum-rush and temporary occupation of Congress, but the company had to appreciate Hawley’s willingness to follow almost anywhere Trump’s excesses might lead. Simon & Schuster got what it signed up for—a Trump clone. But a special kind of Trump clone—one with an Ivy League patina and an ability to deliver heartland grievances to the masses as he prepared to run for president in 2024. They wanted somebody malicious and notorious and capable of riling the libs, and when he turned out to be exactly the person they ordered, they feigned offense at his excesses and shelved him and his book.

Hawley’s response is an act, too.

He issued a statement Thursday on Twitter, threatening Simon & Schuster with legal action and accusing it of “Orwellian” behavior that constituted a “direct assault on the First Amendment.” These analogies are so laughable you have to believe Hawley deliberately set out to weaken his case when he typed them. No dummy, Hawley graduated from two of America’s most distinguished schools, Stanford University and Yale Law School, so we can assume he knows literature and he knows the law. That being so, he can’t really believe there’s anything Orwellian or injurious to First Amendment rights about a private publisher divorcing a writer because it doesn’t want to be associated with him. As Hawley well knows, such cancellation could be considered Orwellian or a violation of the First Amendment if and only if the government—preferably a totalitarian one—killed his book for political reasons. As practically everybody who has analyzed the kerfuffle has pointed out, Hawley has no “right” to be published by Simon & Schuster or anybody else. There is no First Amendment issue here to litigate.

As Simon & Schuster and Hawley crawl from the wreckage, pretending to nurse wounds inflicted by their collision, we should pause to note that a genuine injury to free expression has been done this week.

No matter how you feel about Hawley and his postelection rabble-rousing or Simon & Schuster’s cowardice, both writer and publisher thought he had something worthy to add to the big tech debate when they partnered to print his book. It’s a shame that Simon & Schuster, a nonpartisan press that has welcomed writers and thinkers from across the political spectrum to help expand the scope of debate over the decades, chose this moment, when we need a deeper understanding of what people we don’t agree with think, to spike a book. Whether Simon & Schuster did it because Hawley casts a temporary public relations shadow on its reputation or because some of its staffers don’t want to be associated with such a politician speaks poorly of the publisher’s commitment to open expression. If you’re a publisher and you fear controversy and flee from it on a few hour’s notice, you’re in the wrong line of work.

Simon & Schuster has expressed second thoughts about books it had acquired before. In 2017, it jettisoned a title by alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos after a video of him endorsing sexual relations between “young boys and older men” surfaced. In 1990, it punted Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho after it was damned as excessively violent and misogynistic. But scrapping Hawley’s book marks several firsts for the publisher. It appears to be the first time Simon & Schuster has yanked a book by a serving U.S. senator; the first time an “innocent” policy book has been canned (remember, it’s a jeremiad against big tech); and the first time a book has gotten the sack because its author slavishly followed the political path plowed by his president.

In a saner world, Simon & Schuster could have stood by the book in the name of open discourse by distancing itself from Hawley’s troglodyte political gestures, a move that would have assured its authors that its first priority was to publish the best books it can, not police the conduct of the people who write them. So who’s the bigger hypocrite? You might think it’s Hawley, who among his sins has fundraised on baseless charges of election fraud. But I’ve got to give the nod in this tilt to the publisher who energized the cancel-crowd when it should have used its power and prestige to stand by principle and the author it hired.

As for Hawley, don’t worry about him. Some publisher, maybe the right-leaning Regnery or some other enterprising imprint, will rescue his orphaned book and market it with an advertising campaign describe it as “The book Simon & Schuster Tried to Ban!” It will sell a freight-load. Efforts to stifle expression frequently backfire.

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I would write a book if I had a good idea for one. Send suggestions to [email protected] My email alerts are book-length. My Twitter feed is a glossy magazine. My RSS feed is a yellowed alternative weekly.



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