Message to Simon & Schuster: You can’t be smart AND be hateful.

Hi Joel,

You’ve seen the editor’s notes on Milo Yiannopoulos’ first draft of his memoir? Simon & Schuster properly caught hell for offering the racist, misogynistic, transphobic performance artist an advance of nearly a quarter million dollars. Why? Clearly, because they thought it would make money. Then Milo went on record as promoting sexually abusive relationships between adult men and boys as young as 13 as a means for young gay boys to discover and explore their sexuality in relationships with men who can “give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock.” Simon & Schuster quickly cancelled the contract, leaving Yiannapolis to self-publish his book.

In Yiannopoulos’ defense, he had no reason to know that a publisher who picked him up because of his hateful works about women, trans people, gay people, Muslims, and non-whites would later drop him because of his words against children.

But now Yiannopoulis must suffer another indignity: the publication of his notes from his editor, which have become public as part of his $10 million lawsuit against the publisher for break of contract. Turns out that Simon & Schuster thinks he’s a twit. Again, they knew this when they signed him on, so perhaps the editorial staff breathed a sigh of relief when he made those remarks about grooming children for sexual abuse–after all, it might be more defensible to drop a person you didn’t know was that bad rather than a person you knew was bad but you thought could write.

The comments read like notes from an increasingly frustrated college professor trying to pull anything positive out of a student paper, possibly because they just want this doofus to pass and not have to re-take her class. Editor Mitchell Ivers repeatedly point out that Yiannopoulis’ arguments don’t amount to much more than racist and sexist name-calling. You can hear the exasperation as the editor discovers that the whole thing is a steaming pile of not-very-smart insults of vulnerable people.

Damningly, parts of the manuscript are “unfunny.” Given the importance of disguising abuse as humor for “virtuous trolls” (as Yiannapoulis calls himself), this is a grievous sin.

You can read the text and the comments that comprise Exhibit B in the New York County Clerk’s files, or check out Sarah Mei’s twitter thread on the matter as she does a lovely job of capturing Ivers’ dawning realization that Simon & Schuster has made a terrible, terrible mistake. Ivers comments:

  • “Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke” [What kind of ethnic joke isn’t irrelevant? Also, an editor knows that irrelevant and superfluous is redundant, right?]
  • “Let’s leave ‘cuck’ out of it here” [Had Ivers read Yiannopoulis’ work at Breitbart?)
  • “This is not the time or place for another black-dick joke” [When is?]
  • “The use of phrases like ‘Two-faced backstabbing bitches’ diminishes your overall point”

That last one resonates with me, since I’ve written some version of it (well, without the foul language) at different points in my career. It’s what you write when you need to tell a student to strip away the nonsense and focus on the argument–hoping that, when they do, they’ll see that there is no argument.

 

Above, some of the books Threshold Imprint has deemed publishable include titles by and about unethical characters like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh Oliver North, and Donald Trump.

As much as it’s fun to see Simon & Schuster get what it deserves (Really, I can’t decide who to cheer for in this lawsuit.) and Milo Yiannopoulis’ terrible ideas be thrashed in public, there are real concerns here.

First, Yiannopoulis was an editor, for crying out loud. I know that Breitbart has no ethical or journalistic standards, but you’d think they’d expect people to be able to write. This pile of garbage he calls a manuscript is a first draft, sure, but still… That he got this far in life makes me genuinely sad for talented people.

Second–and more importantly–the editor seems to still miss the point, at least in the excerpts I’ve read. His comments keep suggesting that if Yiannopoulis just wrote better, his terrible ideas would someone be defensible. This book was supposed to be published out of the company’s Threshold Imprint, which has published books by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. In other words, Threshold has a very low threshold for intelligent writing or fact-based analysis. And still, Yiannopoulis’ manuscript was unpublishable. Ivers’ irritation makes sense because he’s not just fighting with an arrogant and underperforming, unintelligent writer–he’s fighting for hope that there are good ideas in the alt-right.

The issue, ultimately, isn’t that Yiannopoulis is a lazy thinker or lousy writer; this manuscript couldn’t be improved with better writing or a scaling back of the racist, anti-Semitic, or misogynistic insults. They are all the author has.

There is no intellectually rigorous way to draw the conclusions that Yiannopoulis makes. That should make not just Ivers but the whole of conservative publishing nervous. Why? Because smart, fact-based, insightful, demanding, methodical thinking will never lead to hateful conclusions.

Rebecca

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