Handling different and conflicting opinions is a skill. This is particularly true in politics and in business. We, in the West, are intellectually diverse with many approaches to life, economics, government and education. This is why censorship is shocking: it communicates that certain views, held by many, are intolerable and not permitted in ‘polite society.’ The act of publishing is not political. Judges and politicans, as well as other public figures, are able to communicate to interested readers via non-fiction writing. Of course, this is dependent on whether a publisher wants to work with them.
This week was interesting- Elon Musk took over Twitter and fired three notorious censors of free speech, including Vijaya Gadde, who decided to permanently ban the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. In the realm of American politics and culture, one such figure is Supreme Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is under fire by Penguin Random House staff and the ‘literary community.’ There’s a current petition going around where 500+ authors and publishing professionals call for the publisher to ‘cut ties’ with Amy Coney Barrett due to the recent overturning of Roe vs Wade. Yes, these authors and workers, who complained about Ron DeSantis restricting sexually explicit books in school libraries, want to ban books. Ironically, the letter make it clear they support free speech (they don’t, hence the previous backlash in response to Jordan Peterson).
This behaviour from publishing staff is not new. At Snowy Fictions, I’ve published articles on Woody Allen and a petition against Donald Trump. A focus is the creeping literary censorship where a victim of a rape gang wasn’t allowed to call her experiences racist by a publisher because she was white. Or, where male writers are punished for writing women. Who can forget Josh Hawley being dropped by Simon & Schuester? There’s also Pan Macmillian Australia dropping Pete Evans for making a somewhat endearing meme. Publishing staff, unfortunately, have treated free speech and intellectual diversity as a joke. There is no understanding of liberty, no appreciation for art, no comprehension of alternative views and unfortunately for Penguin, no professionalism.
Returning to Barrett. Penguin Random House must fire these ideological infilitators or at the very least, communicate that it’s not okay to sign a letter against a client using their position of Penguin Random House. According to Statisa, Penguin Random House has over 10,000 employees in the United States. The letter has 500+ signatures and not all work from Penguin. These employees are in the clear minority, are replaceable and are tarnishing Penguin’s reputation. Corporate publishing is made up from various imprints. I assume Barrett’s book is assigned to a conservative one and I doubt many of these employees had little contact to do with that.
The letter itself is poor: melodramatic claims of breaking Code of Conduct (it doesn’t), misrepresents the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which never claims the right for abortion) and takes the words of Random House’s second publisher as something legally tangible (but he’s dead and no longer owns Random House). The case of dropping Amy Coney Barrett is so flimsy and if Penguin Random House did so on these grounds, they’d have a heck of lawsuit against them. It’s a sad day when publishers try to censor. It’s miserable when literary gatekeepers display ignorance about textual analysis and the meaning of words.
The letter ends with a claim of ‘upholding freedom of speech’ while maintaining a duty of care. These workers fail at both.