Written by Sydney Stewart
Carolyn Reidy has recently been named Publishers Weekly’s Publisher of the Year—a title awarded for her work as CEO and President of Simon & Schuster. However, Reidy is not only known for her exceptional contributions to the world of publishing, but for another reason: she is the original publisher of controversial far-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos is well known for his inflammatory comments and critiques on feminism, Islam, immigration, and political correctness. His words have been the subject of endless debate, and he has been linked to white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and condoning child sexual abuse. The fact that was published by a major publishing company soon brought about a wave of dissent from the public. While Reidy penned a letter stating “I want to make clear that we do not support or condone, nor will we publish hate speech,” the troubling question remained. Is it ethical to publish such a controversial figure’s equally controversial words?
Some proponents of free speech are quick to argue that this is the foundation of American freedom—that Yiannopoulos’s opinions, no matter how contentious, must not be suppressed, whereas others insist that hate speech is not free speech. This topic is far from new, however. The issue of publishing “offensive” or “obscene” works (such as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice) has been a topic of debate for years, and many have spoken out about the harm of not publishing, or even banning books (see John Milton’s Areopagitica). Limiting certain works that could be deemed “offensive” could open the path to limiting a wide variety of knowledge available to the public.
Yet this is a question of whether or not publishing controversial authors is ethical, not whether it should be permitted. One must consider the possibility that not all works published have the capacity to entirely uproot the predominant moral character of the population. The responsibility of mindfully reading potentially offensive works lies in the hands of the reader. Everyone should read material wisely, as well as actively question and contemplate what they are reading. If books are published that contain disputable material, it is better that they are then put to public display and become an open matter for all to consume and debate the nature of the books. Corporations make the decision to sign certain books based on the prospects the books have, and in a political climate such as this, radical opinions are often in the highest demand.
However, this does not mean any book containing hateful speech towards a specific group of individuals can be published without second thought. As mentioned earlier, explicit hate speech is not tolerated, even by publishers of controversial authors. If a publishing company makes the choice to sign a book written by a provocative author, that decision is entirely theirs. To publish works that express tendentious opinions is not only ethical (as in accordance to the freedom of speech and press), but also necessary. It is not to change the opinions of the masses, but rather to inform them of opposing perspectives on issues so that they will be discussed, debated, and if necessary, disproven.
This article is an opinion piece and may not reflect the views of Hothouse as a whole.