As part of the ongoing fallout from yesterday’s scenes of mayhem at the U.S. Capitol, where an armed mob of rioters angry at Donald Trump’s loss in the November presidential election breached security and stormed the very seat of American democracy, one of the country’s biggest publishers has announced the cancellation of plans to publish a book by Missouri senator Josh Hawley. The senator is a staunch Trump supporter and one of the leading objectors to the certification of Electoral College votes from a number of states won by Trump’s opponent, president-elect Joseph Biden.
In a statement posted to its website, S&S wrote that it was cancelling plans to bring out Hawley’s book The Tyranny of Big Tech following “the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.” While the statement affirmed S&S’s commitment to publish books from “a variety of voices and viewpoints,” it went on to say that the company “cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”
A junior senator from Missouri, Hawley was the first person to signal that he would object to the certification of Biden’s victory, turning what should have been a pro forma vote count into a media circus and encouraging the crowd of insurgents who broke into the Capitol, vandalized offices, injured police (in one case, mortally), and forced the evacuation of Congress.
The Kansas City Star published an editorial on Wednesday calling the events “a coup attempt” and saying bluntly that Hawley “has blood on his hands.” (One woman died after being shot during the incursion and three other people died of what Business Insider refers to as “medical emergencies.”)
“Hawley’s actions in the last week had such impact that he deserves an impressive share of the blame for the blood that’s been shed,” reads the Star editorial.
In a Twitter statement, Hawley called S&S’s decision “Orwellian” and went on to say that the publisher is “cancelling my contract 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.” He addressed his comments to “the woke mob” at S&S and vowed to “fight this cancel culture with everything I have.”
The New York Times writes that the decision to cancel Hawley’s book highlights the “pitfalls” facing publishers in a highly polarized political environment. “The biggest commercial publishers have long released works by both Democrats and Republicans, and most have dedicated imprints for works by politicians and pundits on the right. But some publishing professionals wondered if the violence at the Capitol would make it untenable for them to work with conservative authors who have questioned the legitimacy of the election or taken other incendiary positions.”
The issue is especially germane for S&S, which is currently awaiting government approval on a purchase agreement from Penguin Random House that would see the Bertelsmann owned multinational behemoth buy S&S for the staggering sum of $2.175 billion USD. Critics of the deal say that it will be bad for writers and bad for democracy. Here in Canada, the Association of Canadian Publishers has called for the government to review the deal, saying it would negatively impact domestic publishers and writers.
So, it’s little wonder that S&S would want to avoid outsize controversy at this point. However, it’s just as likely that the images of rioters running roughshod through the U.S. Capitol gave the executives at the company pause, as it must have done for many people, at least those who seemed blithely unconcerned about where the incendiary rhetoric from Trump and his acolytes could potentially lead.
As for Hawley, his pugilistic inclinations appear to remain intact. He closed his Twitter statement by telling S&S, “We’ll see you in court.”
UPDATE, January 8, 2021, 10:04 a.m. This post has been updated to reflect the fact that one of the police officers injured in the Capitol riot has now died.