Josh Hawley and the right to be published

Simon and Schuster cancelled its book contract with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and he’s pretty upset.

Here’s what Simon & Schuster announced in a statement:

After witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Simon & Schuster has decided to cancel publication of Senator Josh Hawley’s forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech. We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.

Here’s how Senator Hawley responded on Twitter:

This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contact because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. 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. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.

The First Amendment protects publishers not those who hope to be published

Get this straight. The First Amendment in the US Bill of Rights states, in part:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .

This is a statement about laws, not about a person’s right to be published.

In fact, the First Amendment protects Simon & Schuster’s right to publish what they want, not Senator Hawley’s “right” to force Simon & Schuster to publish whatever he writes. A senator should know this.

If you’ve worked with publishers, you know that (1) they can cancel your contract based on a morals clause and (2) they can reject your manuscript and choose not to publish it. Publishers are not an arm of the federal government — they are private companies with rights to make choices.

I’ll get into Simon & Schuster’s decision more in a moment, but for now, let’s take apart Senator Hawley’s statement:

This could not be more Orwellian.

If the government shuts down your right to speak, that is Orwellian. If a publisher makes a choice, that’s business. Apparently Senator Hawley is easily triggered.

Simon & Schuster is canceling my contact because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition.

I don’t see anything about sedition in Simon & Schuster’s statement. I think they just changed their minds after seeing violence in the Capitol.

Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It’s a direct assault on the First Amendment.

No. Forcing a publisher to publish a book would be an assault on the First Amendment. This is a contract dispute.

Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.

Note the passive “can now be published.” Actually, lots of stuff can be published. But publishers can choose what they want to publish. If they want to participate in making a choice that others see as “cancel culture,” that’s their choice.

Hawley will lose in court. His publishing contract certainly includes a clause that says the publisher can reject his manuscript and cancel his contract.

Did Simon & Schuster make the right decision?

Josh Hawley’s book The Tyranny of Big Tech had a publication date of June 21, 2021. Given how publishing schedules work, it’s likely that he had already turned in his manuscript to Simon & Schuster, but they had probably not officially accepted it yet. (This is speculation based on what I know of publishing schedules; I have no inside information.)

A cached version of the Amazon page includes this information:

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley argues that big tech companies—Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple—represent the gravest threat to American liberty since the monopolies of the Gilded Age, and proposes a democratic, hopeful path forward.

We are currently living in the era of Big Tech. Mega-corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple wield enormous market power and political influence, which they deploy to curb competition and turn massive profits. But their power is more than just money. They exert startling control over Americans’ daily lives by collecting more personal and private information from their users than any other company or government in the world. They regulate and influence the news and information consumers rely upon to make decisions about their families, politics, and health. They organize, manipulate, and direct the conversations that Americans are having.

Given what I’ve written about social media giants, I would have liked to have read this book. I suspect I would have agreed with at least some of what’s in there.

If I were at Simon & Schuster, I would not have cancelled this book just because Senator Hawley had decided to challenge the election results. Simon & Schuster didn’t cancel based on Hawley’s position on the election.

However, Hawley did go outside the Capitol and cheer on the mob. Along with President Trump, he encouraged an armed group challenging the results of democracy. And that group went on to pillage a government building housing elected representatives, endangering everyone inside as well as the democratic process.

If I were at Simon & Schuster, I’d find this a hard call to make. I can certainly see why they would rather not publish a book by this guy who, by his actions, has promoted violence.

Simon & Schuster is not a liberal front. It has published books by Tucker Carlson and John Bolton. But it has cancelled other books, like a racist screed by Milo Yiannopoulos, who is on record encouraging pedophilia.

Publishers do not owe anyone a platform. Simon & Schuster was within its rights to cancel this book. If you behave badly enough, you’ll lose your publishing contract. That’s the lesson here, and authors who feel empowered to say and do anything they want, regardless of how odious, racist, or violent it may be, should keep that in mind.

8 responses to “Josh Hawley and the right to be published

  1. If lying, malevolent arsonists and insurrectionists like Josh Hawley are not held to public account for promoting and inciting the events of January 6, America will have another January 6. I admire Simon & Schuster for taking a morally principled stand that what happened Wednesday must never happen again, and I have no doubt he can get the book published elsewhere.

  2. Well, of course “A senator should know this.” I don’t believe for half a moment that Hawley doesn’t know it. I’m quite sure there is nothing in the first half of this post that is new to Hawley, and there is nothing sincere about his statement on any level.

    As a follow-up to this blog, I’d be interested in reading your ideas about what Hawley is really trying to do in his post. My money right now is leaning towards him trying to lay claim to Trump’s mantle — and base — for himself.

  3. Yes, I am very glad people “get” what free speech is now, but I wish people “got” this when they were SCREAMING about their “free speech” being abrogated when they were being shouted down in concerts and having their Visa Checkcard pitchman contracts cancelled and their Dixie Chicks records pulled from the radio during the Bush II Iraq war years. Funny how now everyone’s an expert on what it is and isn’t, but when it was about opposing the Iraq War they all managed to think “free speech” meant “I have a right to be in heavy rotation on ClearChannel’s FM stations in the top 25 markets in the US.” Truth is truth all the time, not just when it inconveniences your political opponents.

  4. Hey Josh . . .
    . . . . . . . . .
    You should do a piece on the difference between the way the Media and writers / editors are handling the “deadly insurrection” last week, and the 70 “peaceful demonstrations” through the summer, and as late as last night, where over 60 law enforcement officers were killed.
    . . . . . . . .
    You would do a superb job of explaining the different approaches!
    . . . . . . . .
    Fred

    1. The cases are not parallel. You can’t “both sides” this issue.

      In this case, we had an armed mob invading the most consequential building in American governance while legislators were inside, with the avowed goal of interfering with a democratic process fundamental to peaceful operation of government — and intent on taking hostages. All that after being encouraged by a sitting president. That’s a threat to democracy.

      Your count of law enforcement deaths isn’t supported by evidence. And BLM has never done anything like this.

      Media is handling it differently because it is different.

  5. David Tarabar has it right. Hawley has many options to be “heard”.

    Hawley’s rhetoric is of a kind frequently espoused by leaders and media on the “right”, that their concerns, their voices not only are not being heard, but are actively being suppressed.

    There are two truths at once here.

    1) Guys like Hawley have no real issue getting his viewpoints out there – “conservative” media has a LARGE following (and Hawley would have no problem getting on any of them, I’m sure), and he has opportunity to host his own website/podcast, and has his official senatorial site too.
    2) There is a cultural trend in popular institutions to suppress “conservative” viewpoints within, which affects people far from the megaphone that Hawley has. Universities tend to frequently pop up as examples.

    Rather than productively address the issue in #2, he chooses to exploit that sentiment and knowingly conflates his personal issue with a First Amendment abrogation.

    What has become clear over the last four years is that there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around (left and right), and there is great value in promoting one’s own (and, one’s own group’s) victimhood to further a political (or other) advantage.

    This only works for guys like Hawley because people will conveniently fall silent when “their own side” does it.

    It is probably because those same people sort themselves into their own information bubble, getting only one side of the story.

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