Self-published books make cancellation a non-issue

Photo via Wallpaper Flare

The New York Times has yet another story on the pressures being placed on publishers to cancel controversial books. The example in question is by Jonathan Mattingly, one of the Louisville police officers who took part in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Probably the best known of such incidents was Simon & Schuster’s decision to cancel a contract with Sen. Josh Hawley earlier this year after he essentially endorsed the Jan. 6. insurrection. Hawley’s book was instantly picked up by the right-wing publisher Regnery, and Hawley has been talking ever since to whine about how he’s been silenced.

The Hawley situation shows that the marketplace can resolve disputes over speech. But I want to push it one step further by pointing out that publishing and distributing a book has become absolutely frictionless. Self-publishing a book, either in print or online, is cheap and easy — I’ve done it myself.

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And though it is true that Amazon will occasionally decline to carry a book, as was the case recently with a work that had come under attack by the transgender community, DIY methods are always available, starting with the web, email lists and the like. (I’m leaving out Facebook because the service has been making efforts to take down disinformation and hate speech.)

What this comes down to is that fringe right-wing books will continue to be published and will continue to be promoted by fringe right-wing media, with the most prominent authors finding a voice on Fox News.

And even lesser authors can find creative ways to make money from their books. Just ask Sen. Ted Cruz, now facing allegations that he used campaign funds to promote his tome.

‘Wife bonus’ story called into doubt. Shocking, eh?

CG-UOQ3XAAAb4wpI am shocked, shocked to learn that the “wife bonus” story has been called into question.

Last month I shared with my ethics class an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times claiming, among other things, that some rich women on Manhattan’s Upper East Side were paid “wife bonuses” by their husbands based on “how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks.”

The article, by a “social researcher” who goes by the name Wednesday Martin, was based on her forthcoming book, “Primates of New York.”

Martin’s Times piece was, shall we say, remarkably thin. There was not a single named source who could provide direct evidence of the practice. Nor were there any experts cited who could talk about the phenomenon. Statistics? We don’t need no stinking statistics. My students and I agreed that this was worth keeping an eye on.

Well, well, well. The New York Post reported over the weekend that Martin’s claims may not actually be true. Or as the Post puts it in its headline, “Upper East side housewife’s tell-all book is full of lies.” And though “wife bonuses” are not one of the “lies” exposed by the Post, its veracity appears to be on shaky ground. Here’s what Martin wrote in the Times on May 16:

Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.

And here’s what she told the Post:

I don’t necessarily think it’s a trend or widespread. It was just one of the many strange-seeming cultural practices that some women told me about.

Granted, not a full retreat. But Martin is clearly hedging.

Now it looks like “Primates of New York” is headed for the monkey cage. The Times today reports that the publisher, Simon & Schuster, will “append a note to future editions of the book, written by the social researcher Wednesday Martin, clarifying that some of the memoir’s details and chronologies were changed.”

We await public editor Margaret Sullivan’s take on the latest bogus trend story to find its way into the Times — something she has already joked about with her “Monocle Meter,” named after a trend story about young hipsters wearing monocles that appeared to be — well, uh, you know. Unsubstantiated.

Hat tip to Peter Masalsky for the “Casablanca” inspiration.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.