Publishers beware: Banning books isn’t good for freedom (or business)

It’s interesting to note that such a petition didn’t circulate among the authors vying for Pulitzer Prizes during the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

In an open letter posted last week to his website, young-adult novelist Barry Lyga called for like-minded colleagues in the industry to join him in blocking the publication of bodies of work written by anyone associated with the outgoing administration in Washington.

Titled “No Book Deal for Traitors,” the letter begins, “We all love book publishing, but we have to be honest—our country is where it is in part because publishing has chased the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people, and has granted those same people both the imprimatur of respectability and a lot of money through sweetheart book deals.”

It goes on, “As members of the writing and publishing community of the United States, we affirm that participation in the administration of Donald Trump must be considered a uniquely mitigating criterion for publishing houses when considering book deals.

“Consequently, we believe: No participant in an administration that caged children, performed involuntary surgeries on captive women, and scoffed at science as millions were infected with a deadly virus should be enriched by the almost rote largesse of a big book deal. And no one who incited, suborned, instigated, or otherwise supported the Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt should have their philosophies remunerated and disseminated through our beloved publishing houses.

“ ‘Son of Sam’ laws exist to prevent criminals from benefiting financially from writing about their crimes. In that spirit, those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing.

“We are writers, editors, journalists, agents, and professionals in multiple forms of publishing. We believe in the power of words and we are tired of the industry we love enriching the monsters among us, and we will do whatever is in our power to stop it.”

The missive, which is filled with false claims and matters of opinion, has been signed thus far by hundreds of editors, publishers and writers whose mediocrity alone is sufficient cause not to take them too seriously. But the current cultural climate in the United States has provided them with ill-deserved professional cache by virtue of their being on the right, which is to say left, side of any issue.

Indeed, the wanton way in which the letter’s signatories describe the crimes ostensibly committed by Team Trump is further proof, if any were needed, that the self-anointed literati don’t give a damn about intellectual integrity. Unless, of course, they are attacking others whose worldview differs from theirs.

It is this almost religious belief in the holiness of their positions that enables them shamelessly to justify their plea by invoking 1977 New York State legislation enacted to keep notorious serial killer David Berkowitz and subsequent infamous murderers from remuneration through the recounting of their dastardly deeds.

To call this chutzpah of the highest order would be an understatement.

Keep in mind that Lyga and his ilk don’t oppose ex-politicians profiting from book sales in principle. On the contrary, as he explained on Friday to Publisher’s Weekly, “Traditionally, members of an outgoing administration can—and do—rely on the cushion of a fat book contract with a healthy advance.”

It’s the “Trump administration, [with] its history of outrages, lies and incitement to insurrection” that he wants blocked from behaving similarly.

“[W]e cannot allow this to stand,” he said. “No one should be enriched for their contribution to evil.”

It is interesting to note that such a petition didn’t circulate among the authors vying for Pulitzer Prizes during the final days of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s term in office, for instance. You know, the gang in the White House who actually built the cages along the Mexican border that are cited in the letter and attributed to Trump.

Facts are beside the point, though, when muzzling Trump is the objective. This is why the letter also lists the “perform[ing of] involuntary surgeries on captive women” as an example of his criminal activity, despite the allegation’s having been denied by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and an investigation that has yet to completed.

Meanwhile, the letter’s averring that Trump “scoffed at science as millions were infected” is ridiculous. What he did was take issue with certain pronouncements made by the World Health Organization and top U.S. infectious-disease specialist Anthony Fauci—a number of which, as he had suspected, turned out to be dubious if not downright wrong.

Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has the majority of leaders around the world stumped and scrambling. In Israel, for instance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opposite approach to that of Trump, and he, too, has been blamed by detractors for the morbidity and mortality rates, as well as for “mishandling” the crisis.

As for the U.S. Capitol riots earlier this month: It is legitimate to hold Trump responsible for so riling up his base that a mob of his fans went on an illegal and inexcusable rampage against Congress. Still, the soon-to-be-ex-president was punished for that in the form of a second impeachment, on the one hand, and no small degree of disgrace on the other.

Those who added their names to Lyga’s letter aren’t interested in debating any points of contention, however. They simply want to remove all traces of the administration that they are happy to see exit—even those in print.

It’s a level of insanity for which they and the rest of us will be sorry. In fact, some prominent figures already are. Take mega-best-selling author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. For a single tweet about gender, the beloved liberal writer was ostracized by a slew of progressives to the extent that her tomes were removed from the shelves of book shops not only in America, but as far afield as Australia.

Responding to the headline of a May 28, 2020 op-ed on the enterprise and media platform Devex—“Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate”—Rowling posted the comment: “’People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

In a universe that hadn’t completely lost its marbles, her remark would have elicited laughter. It is and is meant to be a funny social critique, after all.

Well, not in an atmosphere of political correctness on steroids. No, in this alternate reality—a planet where free speech is “for me and not thee,” Rowling’s quip is construed as “transphobic” and therefore cause for shunning.

Publishers who go along with this kind of thought-tyranny ought to have their heads examined. They, of all people, should lead the fight against the elimination of someone’s words.

The bad news is that cultural intimidation may cause even those who don’t lean in the direction of book-banning to practice it. The good news is that publishers are in business to make money. And turning down tell-alls about the Trump administration probably isn’t something that their accountants would advise.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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