The New Yorker ruffled feathers Monday by announcing that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon would headline their annual festival happening in October. Readers were outraged and eventually other guest speakers pulled out of the event, including Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey, and Jimmy Fallon.
All too predictably, The New Yorker caved to the mob. Editor in Chief David Remnick wrote in a letter to staff:
There are many ways for a publication like ours to do its job: investigative reporting; pointed, well-argued opinion pieces; profiles; reporting from all over the country and around the world; radio and video interviews; even live interviews. At the same time, many of our readers, including some colleagues, have said that the festival is different, a different kind of forum. I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues- and I’ve reconsidered. I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this. Our writers have interviewed Steve Bannon for The New Yorker before, and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.
What a coward.
For starters, a festival is really no different than all the forums he listed like profiles, interviews, and opinion pieces. They all are forums that preserve the exchange of ideas. Sure, a festival is far more publicized, but they all belong in the same family of civil discourse.
Secondly, he’s obviously wrong when he said he “thought this through,” because clearly he hadn’t when he sent the invite to Bannon. He knew exactly who he was inviting, despite the reputation that precedes him, and he should have known the type of reaction he would get.
Did Remnick not recall that Bannon was instrumental in the election of Donald Trump as his campaign chief? Did he not recall that he gleefully positioned Breitbart as a platform for the alt-right? Did he not recall that “Saturday Night Live” literally depicted Bannon as the Grim Reaper? The guy was demonized by the left for all seven months of his tenure at the White House, which called him every name in the book from racist, to anti-Semite, to white supremacist, to white nationalist, to Nazi.
This is no way a defense of Bannon. The man humiliated himself when he backed Roy Moore’s senate campaign in Alabama and single-handedly destroyed Breitbart’s reputation. This isn’t about liking or disliking Bannon. This is about allowing ourselves to be exposed to opposing views. It’s about educating ourselves as to why certain people think the way they think or vote the way we vote. It’s about getting a better understanding of people we don’t identify with.
You may hate Bannon for his loyalty to Trump, but the one thing you can’t take away from him is his intelligence and his experience. He got his masters at Georgetown and Harvard. He was a naval officer. He worked on Wall Street and in Hollywood. He helped pull off the biggest political upset in our nation’s history and served in the White House. Not many people can boast all of those credentials. And not one of those guest speakers who protested his involvement in the festival would ever have the balls to face him in a debate. Not Apatow, not Carrey, not Fallon.
And sadly, the readers would have had exactly the same response to virtually anyone associated with Trump. Do you really think there wouldn’t be such an uproar if Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kellyanne Conway or John Kelly were invited to this festival? To the haters, they’re all the same. You’re either with them or you’re against them. End of discussion.
At this point, you’re finding yourself within one of two groups of people: those who consistently favor freedom of expression and open debate and those who want to silence individuals they oppose. Those who favor freedom of expression have defended Alex Jones, James Gunn, Sarah Jeong, Kevin Williamson, Laura Ingraham, and Bari Weiss from the social media mobs that either try to suppress speech or destroy careers — not because they necessarily agree with their politics, but out of respect for their right to free expression. That’s because they know the best way to combat speech is with more speech, not less.
Unfortunately, many of the people who were outraged by Bannon’s inclusion at the New Yorker Festival have probably raised children who get outraged whenever people like Ben Shapiro are invited to speak on their college campus.
Remnick had a chance to be an advocate for civil discourse. It would have taken a lot of courage for him to stick to his guns and honor Bannon’s invitation. Instead, he chose the easy way out. It was yet another victory for the mob, but a defeat for all of us.