I have to be honest that I have never understood the Milo Yiannopoulos phenomenon. I just assumed there was a well paid PR person somewhere manufacturing a personality from whole cloth. But he has undeniably captured people’s imaginations, generated a storm of controversy, and gotten lots of attention for himself.
I opposed the American Conservative Union’s decision to let Milo speak at CPAC because Milo himself has said he is not a conservative and I do not think the values he represents in their totality reflect well on the conservative movement. Milo’s affiliation with the alt-right should have been enough to disqualify him from an invitation and while I applaud ACU rescinding that invitation, I still they think should rescind the employment of whichever staff members were involved in offering him the keynote.
We know now the line at which the ACU will rescind an invitation, but we still do not know at which point they will consider an invitation. Being a conservative should be the start of that conversation.1
Concurrently, Milo had a book deal with Simon and Schuster. There was a ton of controversy about the deal when it was first announced and I defended Simon and Schuster for publishing the book. I think it is stupid now for them to walk away. It is not like they didn’t know what they were getting.
To be clear, both ACU and Simon and Schuster are private entities. They are not engaging in censorship, but business decisions. They have every right to walk away and I am sure Milo will find another publisher.
In the book publisher’s initial statement, the company defended publication saying
“While we are cognizant that many may disagree vehemently with the books we publish, we note that the opinions expressed therein belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees.”
They lost some of their authors, but I suspect they concluded that the bottom line would be offset by Milo’s book. I get the sense now that their position in canceling the book is not one of conviction, but one of profit. I suspect they now calculate that they will not be able to sell enough of Milo’s books to make back a $250,000.00 advance.
Simon and Schuster has courted controversy in its publications and has sponsored “Banned Books Week” to highlight controversial authors and banned books. But upon review, it appears they celebrate controversial left-of-center audiences, including publishing books about teenage gay relationships. With Milo cast as a figure of the right, the market for his book is already limited and outside the appeal of even many employees of his publisher. Now, with conservatives in an uproar over his remarks, his viable market is reduced even further.
The instructive situation here is what people will accept and not accept. ACU was perfectly willing to give a platform to a man who says he is not conservative and who has a history of highly inflammatory remarks about Jews, Nazis, etc. But they were not willing to accept someone who does all that and makes comments interpreted by many as endorsing pedophilia, though Milo denies that is what his comments amount to.
Simon and Schuster was willing to lose other authors and withstand negative PR all in the name of free speech until this latest controversy.
Both ACU and Simon and Schuster were perfectly happy to take the hits by welcoming a controversial figure who says controversial things, but both are now feigning shock and outrage by the same controversial figure saying something else controversial.
Let us not get confused and think there is any principle here. Both were happy to use Milo when they thought it would suit their bottom lines and both were happy to ditch him when they thought it would hurt their bottom lines.
In all of this, what is lost is that it is much easier these days to get attention, fame, and fortune from casting aside basic decency in favor of trolling and incendiary remarks. But that attention, fame, and fortune are all the more unstable and fleeting.
Milo got blown up by his own words and deeds. ACU and Simon and Schuster just hoped to cash in before it happened and now they cannot. Neither now are taking a heroic stand and neither need be applauded.
1. It is worth noting that my friend Ned Ryun, on the board of ACU, was vocally opposed to Milo’s invitation once it was announced and before any of the latest information came out. He was opposed for the reasons other conservatives were opposed and was later joined by folks like John Eddy from the ACU board. People making a principled stand should be applauded.↩