Last month, the news broke that an imprint of Simon and Schuster had inked a publishing deal for Milo Yiannopoulos’s autobiography, "Dangerous." Yiannopoulos is an editor of Breitbart News, a conservative news site that has been condemned for publishing anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynistic articles. The Simon and Schuster deal has attracted plenty of outrage, as have many news stories involving Yiannopoulos. The Chicago Review of Books has vowed not to review a single book published by Simon and Schuster as long as Yiannopoulos’s deal is in effect. Many leftist groups have called for an outright boycott of the publisher, to be maintained until the book deal is rescinded.
Almost everything that Yiannopoulos has done is deplorable. He is a member of the “alt-right,” a loosely defined, far-right group that includes neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He first rose to prominence in the “Gamergate” troll war of September 2014 when targeting the game developer Brianna Wu and whipping his followers into a frenzy so threatening that Wu was forced to move out of her house and hire a bodyguard. In July of last year, he was banned from Twitter after inciting online racist and sexist harassment of Leslie Jones, the star of the new Ghostbusters movie. This is indefensible behavior. It seems fitting that Yiannopoulos’s autobiography will be published under the same Simon and Schuster imprint (Threshold Editions) as those of other extremist figures, including Michelle Malkin, Dinesh D’Souza, and Donald Trump.
However, it is acceptable for a book publisher to publish material from whomever it wants, even if that person is a misogynist and white supremacist. Simon and Schuster is legally entitled to grant Yiannopoulos a publishing deal. I never thought that I might be defending an offensive demagogue like Yiannopoulos, but it’s important to remember that the freedom to publish is a constitutionally protected expression of free speech. Yiannopoulos has every right to be provocative, so long as he does not incite violence or promote physical harm against another person. Accordingly, he has a right to find a publisher for his autobiography, and the publisher has a right to print, market, and distribute it. Demanding that the publication of a particular viewpoint be banned is the beginning of a slippery slope toward outright media censorship. Few would approve if a conservative Christian group wanted a book by Bill Maher banned for being anti-religion. Arguing for freedom of the press means recognizing both sides of the spectrum, as uncomfortable as we might be with the other side.
The main criticism that has been made of this deal is that Yiannopoulos stands to make a huge profit off hateful rhetoric. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Yiannopoulos will make at least $250,000 off of this deal — an obscene amount of money to reward hate speech. The publisher also stands to make a lot of money from Yiannopoulos’s writing, as Yiannopoulos’s book is currently the #1 bestseller on Amazon.
Despite the outrage, a boycott of the publisher would be counterproductive. As pointed out in The New Yorker, a blanket boycott of Simon and Schuster would also mean rejecting plenty of other progressive works by authors from marginalized communities, or even Simon and Schuster’s imprint of Muslim children’s books. A loss of readership for progressive works like those would be equally detrimental.
Yiannopoulos is ultimately nothing more than a troll, and we should treat him as such. He is fully aware of the outrage he’s stoking. In an interview about his book, when asked about his provocative rhetoric, he simply replied, “I hope to offend every reader.” Perhaps the best way to starve a troll is to not listen to him at all, to crush his “hope to offend.” Engaging with him won’t get us anywhere. To put him on an equal plane with other thinkers is to normalize his bigotry and validate his arguments. Rather, we should read something else instead, from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Sympathizer” to a book by Octavia Butler. At least then our purchase would benefit writers of color and counter the harm that Yiannopoulos is doing. Yiannopoulos has every right to say what he wants, but we have every right to not buy or read his book, and to pick up something better instead.
Nicholas Wu is a Wilson School major from Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.