The First Amendment Resistance Presented By Pen America | Book Expo 2017

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At The First Amendment Resistance Presented By Pen America, On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone hosted a series of panelists on Thursday, June 1, to explore free speech and fake news in the wake of Simon & Schuster’s decision to cancel the publication of a book by former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Speakers included Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors; New York Post columnist and Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz; Zoe Quinn, a central figure in the Gamergate controversy; and author and lawyer Scott Turow. The passionate and honest conversation began with a discussion of Yiannopoulos, who become a cheerleader for Gamergate and was banned from Twitter after the harassment of actress Leslie Jones in 2016.

“I woke up one day after my phone number had been disseminated by people who were trying to find and kill me,” Quinn began. She described her personal story of being a victim of intense online harassment, and maintained that giving [Yiannopoulos] a platform is also giving him legitimacy. In response, Gladstone asked if a book should be evaluated by the text or content instead of the person, and whether it is possible to separate one from the other. Panelists, including Quinn, debated whether that subject is made more complicated when one has made a career off of hate speech.

“You can call it hate speech, but you can’t call in truth,” Quinn clearly stated. Turow wondered if it was purely a commercial decision by Simon & Schuster to make the initial decision to publish and the later decision to cancel. He emphasized, “Publishers are private actors and they are free to publish what they want to publish.” The question of whether Simon & Schuster made a commercial or moral decision was debated, although there was no unified answer.

Saying that he didn’t want to see any writers silenced, Turow further explained, “If you buy an irresponsible book, that is also part of the market. That is also part of free speech and free expression. Hard cases make bad law. The actors who rise up as martyrs are people you don’t necessarily want to defend.” Podhoretz compared the situation to Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who has made headlines with his First Amendment legal battles.

When asked about the controversy, Cullors found it unfortunate that Yiannopoulos’s book deal was only canceled after the allegations of pedophilia. “Milo allows for a new group of people to engage in hate speech and practice it,” she added. In mentioning the recent hate crime in Portland, OR, Cullors said that we need to have conversations about those events too.

Gladstone agreed that the messenger is just as important as the message, and argued that silos can foster great extremes. “If you’re in a bubble, the centrist voices become the marginalized ones and the loudest voices become the most extreme,” she said. “How do you reach outside the bubble? How you let some air into the bubble?”

Cullors responded with a questions she frequently receives: What about all lives? She suggested it is in our best interest to have conversations with those who don’t have the same views.

“Why don’t marginalized groups talk to the extreme?,” asked Cullors. “I don’t think that’s a fair question. Why does this group of people think that it’s okay to harm, kill, or abuse this other group of people?…We don’t live in a healthy environment right now. We don’t live in a healthy country. We don’t trust each other. We don’t feel safe with each other. And those are human values that are necessary.”

Panelists disagreed about whether people are given a license because of the current political climate. Podhoretz asked if, in the past, we could imagine a president calling for riots or calling for violence. “It’s a degradation of our public discourage in my own lifetime,” he said.”  Turow wondered if Yiannopoulos would incite others who share the same views. Meanwhile, Quinn questioned why he still has a platform, and expressed frustration that there haven’t been any prosecutions of people affiliated with Gamergate.

“In an era where they are no gatekeepers, where everyone can find their audience,” Gladstone asked, “Does that change the rules for writers?” Quinn responded that it does, and that she is not having a book tour for safety reasons. Cullors believed that this conversation existed in a vacuum, and that we need to have a conversation about all of the ways these events impact uswhich resulted in much applause and cheering from the audience.

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About Stephanie Sendaula

Stephanie Sendaula (ssendaula@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor at Library Journal.

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