PEN America: Simon & Schuster Should Not Cancel Pence Book Deal
Employees are within their rights to protest the deal and voice concerns
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Simon & Schuster has rebuffed both internal and external pressure to reverse a book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence. PEN America released the following statement in response:
“Publishers are free to choose what books to release, but once those decisions are made, there should be a very high bar for reversing them as a result of public or internal staff pressure. Otherwise, it opens the door for everyone with a concern about a particular author, opinion, or perspective to mount a protest that seeks to override editorial judgement and risks deterring editors from taking on controversial books. Historically, progressive ideas have gotten a foothold because intrepid editors and publishers were willing to give them an airing. If editors fear being preemptively overruled and pilloried in the court of public opinion before their books even see the light of day, the spectrum of available books will narrow.
“Part of the demand for greater control over which authors are given a platform comes from a deep-seated concern about how decisions in publishing are made, and by whom. The legacy of racial underrepresentation in the ranks of publishing staff and authors has fueled concerns about the role publishing should play in trying to bring about a more just and equitable society. These issues need to be addressed by widening access to power in the publishing world for a more representative group of editors and authors, and an affirmed commitment to offering a breadth of ideas and perspectives, including some that are controversial.
“We understand why people do not think Mike Pence deserves a lucrative publishing contract or the support that goes along with it. He was a top official in an administration that posed grave dangers to our society and democracy, including the cause of free expression. But there may be things to learn from his book, including how he justifies the policies and abuses that he enabled. The debate over the book—whether it is credible and truthful, whether his accounts stand up to scrutiny, whether he reckons with the consequences of what he wrought—could inform how historians, political scientists, and the public make sense of the Trump era and what there is to learn from it.
“We face the question of whether we want the publishing world to bifurcate along political lines the way that cable news has, where ideology dictates who talks about what and who listens. There are pressures on booksellers and libraries as well not to stock books that some staff or customers find objectionable. With a shrinking array of societal institutions that bring us together across ideological bounds, publishing, bookselling, and libraries are important arenas that continue to offer us the possibility of discovering something that is intellectually unsolicited and unexpected, of browsing through bookstores and encountering something you find surprising or that challenges your beliefs. There is also the chance that, in being edited by a mainstream publishing house, an author will have their own notions and narratives tested in meaningful ways.
“Simon & Schuster published Bob Woodward’s explosive Trump book, Rage; Mary Trump’s book, for which she was sued by the president; and John Bolton’s account of the utter chaos of the Trump White House. To suggest that with this book the publisher is now tipping the scales in favor of the Trump Administration and all that it stood for overlooks that. It is important to have some institutions in our society that are still genuinely willing to reckon with radically conflicting and even objectionable ideas. Major publishers have played that role, and we hope they continue to do so.”