The employee petition demanding Simon & Schuster cancel former Vice President Mike Pence's two-book deal is a sign of a growing political divide within an industry founded on freedom of speech, observers say.
More than 200 Simon & Schuster employees, 14% of its workforce, and thousands of supporters signed the petition, accusing the company of a litany of offenses, including "complicity in perpetuating White Supremacy." And it called Pence a central figure in a presidency that "Advocated for racism, sexism, homophobia," adding that "this is not a difference of opinions; this is legitimizing bigotry."
Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp stood by the decision in a staff memo to employees.
"As a publisher in this polarized era, we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide and from different constituencies and groups. But we come to work each day to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives," Karp wrote.
The company, however, did cancel a book by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., because of his protests over the 2020 election results, saying, "As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: At the same time, we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Sen. Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat."
It also scrapped plans to distribute a book by Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, one of the officers involved in the Breonna Taylor shooting.
Simon & Schuster has published titles ranging from Fox News host Sean Hannity’s "Live Free or Die" and Lara Trump, as well as former national security adviser John Bolton's "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir."
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of Pen America, a human rights and free expression nonprofit organization, said changes in publishing reflect a wider cultural divide.
"People are in ideological camps and sort of the information, the narratives that you absorb are dictated by the ideology that you adhere to. Traditionally publishers, but also bookstores and libraries, have been places for all comers that offer a wide variety of ideas to choose from," Nossel said.
The employee petition also demanded Simon & Schuster cut ties with its conservative imprint Post Hill, which will be publishing Mattingly's book.
In a statement to Fox News, Post Hill spokesperson and publicist Kelsey J. Merritt said, "We cannot speak to the in-house controversy at Simon and Schuster, but as for Post Hill Press, we do not feel we have been accurately portrayed in recent media coverage. ... We publish authors of all backgrounds across a wide spectrum of topics and ideas. We believe in true diversity and inclusion – which means diversity of thought, as well. We do not believe in 'canceling' certain books based on politics and policy."
Pence has not commented on the petition, but in March he tweeted against "cancel culture" after Facebook banned an ad for a novel he endorsed.
Whether you agree with Pence's politics or not, Nossel said, books by high-level figures are first-person historical records that give insights into an era that future generations will study. For that reason alone, Pence's memoirs have incredible value, she said, as they are expected to show a perspective from inside former President Donald Trump's administration.
"While I think the petition is a legitimate exercise of free expression, I hope that the publisher, Simon & Schuster, stands firm," Nossel added.