There’s been a lot of internet outrage in the past week over Milo Yiannopoulos’ recent book deal. I haven’t seen a lot of support, but presumably it’s out there or else Threshold Editions (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) would not have paid the man an advance of $250,000. To break even, the publisher will have to sell more than 50,000 books.
Yiannopoulos is an editor at the right-wing website Breitbart News, but he is best-known for being an internet troll, a provocateur, someone who says outrageously awful things online — heinous, offensive, abusive things that are so disgusting Twitter has permanently banned him. (Twitter executives have not said why, specifically, he was banned, other than to say he violated their rules. But it is well documented that Yiannopoulos and his thousands of followers posted such racist, misogynistic and sexist tweets about black comedian Leslie Jones that she temporarily fled Twitter herself.)
The Hollywood Reporter first announced the book deal, reporting that Yiannopoulos’ autobiography, “Dangerous,” is to be published in March. Yiannopoulos himself seemed surprised. “I met with top execs at Simon & Schuster earlier in the year and spent half an hour trying to shock them with lewd jokes and outrageous opinions,” he told the Reporter. “I thought they were going to have me escorted from the building — but instead they offered me a wheelbarrow full of money.”
This gives you an idea of the guy’s moral code: Anything for money. Anything for attention. Fill up that wheelbarrow.
Outrage toward Threshold Books has spread to outrage toward all of Simon & Schuster. The Chicago Review of Books has taken a strong stand, vowing not to review any Simon & Schuster titles this year. (Adam Morgan, the Review’s editor, explained his rationale in an opinion piece in the Guardian, saying, “I wanted Simon & Schuster to know that broadcasting his rhetoric would have real-world consequences.”)
Several authors are looking into breaking their relationships with the publisher. Leslie Jones herself, now back on Twitter, tweeted her dismay, saying that Simon & Schuster is helping to spread hate.
For its part, Simon & Schuster issued a statement saying that the company does not and never has condoned discrimination or hate speech in any form. Still, so far, Threshold Books is holding firm on the deal.
It is worth noting that Threshold brands itself as a publisher dedicated to providing a forum for “contemporary conservatism.” (And if I called myself an old-fashioned conservative, I would bristle at what that word now stands for.) Threshold has published books by Glenn Beck, Donald Trump, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. So Yiannopoulos might not be the most offensive — just the loudest.
Most big publishers have these so-called conservative imprints — Penguin Random House publishes Ann Coulter under its Crown Forum imprint, and Harper Collins has published Donald Rumsfeld under its Broadside imprint.
As books editor of the Star Tribune, I won’t boycott Simon & Schuster titles — if I did, I’d have to kill reviews of very worthy books, such as Timothy Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till” or “Madame President,” Helene Cooper’s biography of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Simon & Schuster is a business, and it has the right to make business decisions any way it sees fit. But we also have rights. My advice? Follow your conscience. Internet trolls — and book sales — thrive on attention. Stay silent. Empty that wheelbarrow. Do not feed the troll.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks