Tuesday was another very bad day for now former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who resigned from his position with the conservative publication in a news release. On Monday, he lost his publisher, Simon & Schuster, when the company canceled his forthcoming book, “Dangerous,” after the unearthing of a highly offensive video that quoted him advocating sex between grown men and boys.
Only two months ago, when it inked the deal, the publishing giant stood by what now looks to have been a straw man “free speech” defense, saying then in a statement:
“While we are cognizant that many may disagree vehemently with the books we publish we note that the opinions expressed therein belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees.”
Obviously, Yiannopoulos’s transphobic, xenophobic and misogynist barbs didn’t deter Simon & Schuster from nixing the book, but his seemingly enthusiastic support of pedophilia apparently crossed a line. “And this is what it took, Simon & Schuster/Threshold? You were cool with the racism, anti-immigrant invective, and transphobia?” an LGBT literary activist posted on Facebook.
According to a transcript from the Drunken Peasants podcast, Yiannopoulos said that he opposes consent laws and advocates for relationships in which “older men help those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable and sort of a rock where they can’t speak to their parents.”
Before his resignation Tuesday, Breitbart editor in chief Alex Marlow called Yiannopoulos’s comments endorsing sex between adult men and boys “absolutely indefensible.”
As one who suffered at the hands of a sexual predator as a young boy, I’m repulsed by Yiannopoulos’s disregard of the importance of the laws of consent and the great harms suffered by too many young people at the hands of pedophiles. But do I think those statements are worse, more actionable, than what he has said about transgender people, women or Muslims? Frankly, that’s a distinction without a difference when it comes to Simon & Schuster’s free speech defense. It’s the speech we hate the most that needs the greatest protection. In announcing the cancellation, the publisher and its Threshold Editions imprint simply noted that the decision had come after “careful consideration.” Of what, they did not say.
This decision tells us two things. Despite Yiannopoulos’s previous hurtful and hateful statements (which earned him a lifetime ban from Twitter), Simon & Schuster calculated that it could earn back its $250,000 advance and then some. That is, back in December. In a Tumblr post published Tuesday, writer Roxanne Gay, who dropped Simon & Schuster as her publisher over the controversy, summed it up this way:
“In canceling Milo’s book contract, Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish that man in the first place. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, Simon & Schuster realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them.”
It has always been a business decision for Simon & Schuster, whose mission — let’s not forget — is to sell books. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, as an author I’m all for it. But businesses, like people, need a moral compass, a set of guiding values beyond profiteering.
What’s left for Simon & Schuster to do now? “Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past,” American theologian Tryon Edwards once said. In the meantime, an actual apology from chief executive Carolyn Reidy would be a start, with the acknowledgment that the company lost its way over “Dangerous” and that it will rethink its editorial decision-making in the future.
Follow Steven Petrow on Twitter @stevenpetrow