Implications of Simon & Schuster Rewarding Hate: Unanswered Questions

Alt-right movement founder Richard Spencer led a rally of pro-Donald Trump white supremacists in Washington, D.C. in November. Alt-right spokesperson Milo Yiannopoulos, who was recently banned from Twitter for inciting racially based intimidation and threats against a black actress, was just given a quarter-million book deal by Simon & Schuster.

Call it the Age of Indignity.

A few days ago, Milo Yiannopoulos announced via an exclusive in The Hollywood Reporter that he has been commissioned to write his debut book.

"I met with top execs at Simon & Schuster earlier in the year and spent half an hour trying to shock them with lewd jokes and outrageous opinions. I thought they were going to have me escorted from the building -- but instead they offered me a wheelbarrow full of money," Yiannopoulos said.

In this case, the wheelbarrow holds a quarter of a million dollars. It's difficult to find an industry average, but looking at this New York Times piece, it appears that $40,000 is an average advance for a first-time author.

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Screen capture of a typical Yiannopoulos tweet from before he was banned from Twitter.

A little about the author: A protege of Donald Trump's Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon, Yiannopoulos was recruited for write for Breitbart, the media organization that Bannon led until he joined Donald Trump's presidential campaign. While he is unknown to many American people, Yiannopoulos has become a celebrity among university students--a veritable celebrity whose "Dangerous Faggot" university tour over the past year has resulted in sold-out speaking engagements throughout the country. Under the premise of pushing the boundaries of free speech, Yiannopoulos has successfully branded a few catch phrases: "Feminism is Cancer," "Harry Potter and Campus Rape Culture = Both Fantasy," "Stop Being Poor," "Stop Being Ugly," and "Stop Being Fat" among them. He sells T-shirts and other merchandise bearing these slogans. Early last year, Yiannopoulos announced that he would be raising funds for a "Privilege Grant," a scholarship fund that would award grants only to young white men. According to several reports, Yiannopoulos raised more than $100,000 and has been holding the money in a personal bank account and possibly using the funds for personal expenses. (The day before Yiannopoulos announced his $250,000 book deal, he announced via Instagram that "privilege grant applications will open late january" [sic].

Yiannopoulos is perhaps known to the greatest number of people for having been banned from Twitter after actress Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Life, Ghostbusters) made a public plea to the social media company to intervene after Yiannopoulos's public mockery of her incited racist remarks and death threats against her from his followers. Yiannopoulos's book deal announcement was loaded with a sentiment of vengeance about the Twitter ban: "They said banning me from Twitter would finish me off. Just as I predicted, the opposite has happened." As of today, he has 129,000 followers on Instagram, about a third of what he had had on Twitter.

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Claim to Fame: Yiannopoulos's celebrity exploded among college-aged men and women when he developed the slogan "Feminism is Cancer." He subsequently launched a university speaking tour at which one of his primary messages was that university campus rapes are "fantasy."

A few other curious observations about Yiannopoulos that are not included in his bio:

"Two people write Breitbart stuff for me," he told BuzzFeed News, but "ghostwriting is too great a word. I have two books coming out this year," he said. "It's completely standard for someone with a career like mine to have researchers and assistants and ghostwriters."

  • He was selected to host a "Gays for Trump" rally at the 2016 GOP Convention--unsurprising given his close relationship to Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon--and campaigning to recruit young voters for the candidate during his college tour. (Trump, who during his campaign said that he supports LGBT Americans, subsequently appointed what has been called the most anti-LGBT cabinet in history.)
  • Today, it is perhaps as difficult to land a book deal, and particularly one that will pay any bills, unless you are famous. These days, fame can be easily measured by the number of social media followers an individual has. While Yiannopoulos's 129,000 Instagram followers are many, in this case, there are many reasons why Simon & Schuster would choose to publish Yiannopoulos. Unfortunately, the publisher has not been very forthcoming about why it selected a man who has been banned from social media for hate speech and for inciting intimidating and violent threats against others, and who has admitted to relying on interns to write articles attributed to him.

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    Yiannopoulos taunts a critic via his Instagram account.

    I contacted media representatives of Simon & Schuster, its conservative boutique imprint Threshold Editions, and Simon & Schuster parent company CBS Corporation, about the rationale for selecting Yiannopoulos for a quarter-million-dollar book deal, and whether or not the companies support his thoughts. Only Threshold Editions has replied, providing this statement:

    Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, will publish DANGEROUS by Milo Yiannopoulos on March 14, 2017.

    DANGEROUS will be a book on free speech by the outspoken and controversial gay British writer and editor at Breitbart News who describes himself as "the most fabulous supervillain on the internet."

    Threshold Editions acquired world and audio rights from Thomas Flannery at AGI Vigliano.

    'We have no further comment beyond the statement," said a representative of the imprint.

    While Simon & Schuster did not reply to my inquiry, the company issued this public statement:

    Simon & Schuster's statement claims that the viewpoints of its authors do not represent the company's corporate values; however, it must be noted that the Threshold Editions imprint publishes exclusively extreme right-wing books from authors including Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Dick Cheney. (About Cheney, Yiannopoulos's former boss and mentor Steve Bannon once said, "Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power.")

    While Simon & Schuster has been met with a backlash over the Yiannopoulos deal, with some of its current authors threatening to terminate contracts and some readers threatening to boycott the company (including the Chicago Review of Books, which has committed not to review any Simon & Schuster titles in 2017, replacing those would-be reviews with books by independent publishers), I suspect the boycott will be short lived for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the public's and news organizations' attention spans are short, and within a week some other scandal--no doubt a Trump-related one--will supplant this concern and most people will forget about checking books' publishers before making purchases. I suspect that Simon & Schuster is counting on this predictable phenomenon and realizes that all this attention to its small imprint will boost awareness. In a very real way that is undergirded by money, Threshold Editions has been trading in hateful words for many years, and awarding $250,000 to a public antagonist with the cache of Milo Yiannopoulos is from a financial standpoint probably a wise promotional investment. Hatred was the theme of 2016, and the trend will only escalate in the new year.

    Still, despite the obvious motivation (profit) by the publishing company, at least until now large corporations--and particularly those that trade in ideas as book publishers do--have been expected to practice some form of corporate responsibility. Given Simon & Schuster's and the CBS Corporation's refusal to address the particulars of the issue leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Here are some questions I have. Simon & Schuster chose not to reply, but perhaps they will give readers something to think about.

    • For what reason was Milo Yiannopoulos selected as a Simon & Schuster-branded author?
    • Does Simon & Schuster regard Yiannopoulos's infamous reputation as an asset? Does it recognize any liability in publishing his antagonistic and sometimes violence-promoting ideas?
    • Yiannopoulos seems to have mocked Simon & Schuster in the The Hollywood Reporter story for having given him "a wheelbarrow of money" as a reward for going out of his way to antagonize and offend editors, while other SS authors have complained about sharing a publisher with someone who promotes hate speech as free speech. What is the umbrella company's opinion of being mocked by this one author and criticized by others? Obviously these antics have generated an unusual amount of publicity for the company. Was that the intention of publishing Yiannopoulos?
    • Simon & Schuster reportedly has paid Yiannopoulos a quarter-million-dollar advance for his book. What is the average first-time author advance paid by Simon & Schuster and by Threshold Editions? Have any authors who promote civil rights and peaceful governance received such high rewards for their ideas?
    • Threshold Editions is the publisher of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Donald Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon, former employer of and mentor to Milo Yiannopoulos, to serve as his chief strategist. How much does this affiliation have to do with the selection of Yiannopoulos as a Simon & Schuster author, and how much does this relationship affect the amount he has been advanced?
    • Yiannopoulos reportedly raised over $100,000 to establish a college scholarship fund that would award exclusively white men; he subsequently has been accused of having deposited these funds in a personal account without awarding any scholarships. Does Simon & Schuster have any opinion of this apparently fraudulent behavior of one of its authors?
    • Does Simon & Schuster or Threshold Editions have any direct relationship with the Breitbart organization?
    • Does Simon & Schuster or Threshold Editions have any explicit or implied agreement with the incoming presidential administration?
    • Threshold Editions publishes conservative authors, although arguably Milo Yiannopoulos leans furthest toward overt hate speech under the premise of free speech. Does Simon & Schuster have any corporate policies that define hate speech versus free speech, and if so, does it set any limit on the quality of rhetoric it will print and the amount of money with which it will reward authors? For example, National Policy Institute founder Richard Spencer, who recently touted President-elect Trump as a sort of neo-Hitler and saluted him as such, has been celebrated by Yiannopoulos's employer Breitbart as a "leading intellectual." In a recent interview with ABC News's Juju Chang, Spencer called for a nationwide ethnic cleansing to remove all nonwhite people from the United States, told Chang to leave the country, and said he expects this so-called ethnic cleansing to be "very bloody." This is more than rhetoric, as Spencer is presently mobilizing to "march against Jews." Would Simon & Schuster publish a book by an author who calls for an ethnic cleansing/genocide under the guise of free speech, or would this cross a written or unwritten company line? As the founder of the alt-right movement that Yiannopoulos works to advance, Spencer seems like a likely author for the Threshold Editions imprint.
    • Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf is regarded by historians as having been a significant contributor to the growth of the German Nazi party and the resulting mass killing of over six million people. Does Simon & Schuster consider any responsibility to society when deciding who the company will publish and how much it will award these authors, or is it solely in the business of publishing for profit?

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    Posted to Instagram with the caption "Homework," Yiannopoulos regularly follows racially antagonistic remarks with the logical fallacy that because he says he is sexually attracted to black men, he cannot harbor racist sentiments. Oddly, among the many extensive profiles of him such as this controversial puff piece from Out magazine, he is rarely challenged about the veracity of this claim.

    A few last thoughts for those who are likely to comment:

    • Yiannopoulos has been a strident and explicit enabler of the alt-right movement, whose founder Richard Spencer is an adamantly anti-Semitic white supremacist who can be called a neo-Nazi when considering his praise of Adolf Hitler and favorable comparisons of Trump to Hitler. Yiannopoulos and his followers claim he cannot be anti-Semitic because he is part Jewish. This is a logical fallacy for many reasons. Yiannopoulos was raised Catholic and never has embraced his Jewish heritage; he has taken to invoking it when he is accused of advancing anti-Semitic ideas. His former colleague Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, left Breitbart because of the anti-Semitic turn it allegedly took as Yiannopoulos became its most outspoken public voice. When Donald Trump's 2016 election win was announced, Yiannopoulos immediately posted a photo of himself to Instagram with the message "WELCOME TO THE TRUMPENREICH." Being half Jewish does not preclude Yiannopoulos from promoting anti-Semitic ideas.
    • Likewise, being gay does not preclude him from intentionally harming LGBT civil rights, including gay rights. As noted above, Yiannopoulos is particularly virulently hateful to transgender people. He has incorporated gay stereotypes into his flamboyant persona, which in my opinion can be empowering to gay men; but in practice, Yiannopoulos is a gay Uncle Tom who has dedicated his career to bolstering anti-LGBT political operatives. And he uses his identity as a gay man to do further damage, by dismissing his own frequent racist remarks as not racist on the basis that he is sexually attracted to black men. (His words are usually "I love black dick," which many of us recognize as a nod to a long history of dehumanizing black men by reducing them to sexual objects.) A cursory look at his social media presence reveals many self-portraits and many photos with friends, who are almost exclusively other white men. The only black men seen in his abundant personal photos are fans whose photos are taken with Yiannopoulos during public appearances. This makes him claim about having romantic interests exclusively in black men feel quite dubious.
    • Most importantly, Yiannopoulos and his followers claim that he is not a white supremacist and does not harbor or promote racist feelings; when these accusations are made, Yiannopoulos usually dismisses his remarks as jokes and his critics as humorless. Comments written by his fans on YouTube and his Breitbart articles, however, tell a different story, with the majority of Yiannopoulos's fans appearing to be self-pitying white men who often invoke a false idea of a "white genocide" and who liberally use the popular alt-right/neo-Nazi terms "cuck," "libtard" and "snowflakes" (a pejorative term meant to connote an idea of liberal or progressive voters who are so delicate they melt into tears when upset) as they pour forth self-piteous sentiments about the rampant persecution and suppression of European Americans. These people love Yiannopoulos because he skews data to make white men sound like cultural victims, whereas in objective reality (something that admittedly has no place in Trump's America) white Americans hold the greatest wealth and advantage in the United States. There is no white genocide, but if Yiannopoulos's alt-right partner in crime Richard Spencer's prediction comes true, with the support of President Donald Trump and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and with the wide dissemination of ghostwritten political pamphlets such as those that Simon & Schuster's Threshold Editions, there could very well be an alt-right executed "ethnic cleansing." This is the effort to which Yiannopoulos is a lead contributor, no matter what he or his publishers claim.

    The question of greatest important is, does a publisher that rewards authors for their ideas and which disseminates those ideas throughout the country or the world via their product carry a social responsibility for the ideas they spread? The sorts of books published by Threshold Editions are usually ghostwritten or dictated by their primary subjects and then used as products to legitimize these figures as they embark on lucrative and influential national speaking tours. Once Yiannopoulos's book is published, he will be regarded as a legitimate author, no longer the young man who self-published a book of plagiarized poetic lyrics and no longer solely the Breitbart tech editor who does not write about tech and who assigns his name to opinion pieces he admits are written in part or in whole by interns. He will take this book on a book tour, and he will sell these ideas to the masses. That is the purpose of books such as his: it will be a social manifesto. Simon & Schuster is a part of that manifesto, and readers would be wise to remember that.

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