David Remnick Swiftly Cancels Steve Bannon at New Yorker Festival After Celebs Pull Out

The New Yorker editor writes staff: “I’ve reconsidered. I’ve changed my mind”

Last Updated: September 3, 2018 @ 7:23 PM

New Yorker editor David Remnick swiftly canceled Steve Bannon’s scheduled  appearance at the magazine’s annual politics, art and media festival after a number of celebrity speakers backed out when the former executive chairman of Breitbart News was announced as the headliner.

“The main argument for not engaging someone like Bannon is that we are giving him a platform and that he will use it, unfiltered, to propel further the ‘ideas’ of white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, and illiberalism. But to interview Bannon is not to endorse him,” Remnick wrote in a letter to the New Yorker staff obtained by TheWrap.

Remnick, however, went on to say that he didn’t “want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues–and I’ve re-considered. I’ve changed my mind,” he added. “There is a better way to do this. Our writers have interviewed Steve Bannon for The New Yorker before, and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.”

Jim Carrey, John Mulaney, Judd Apatow and others said they would no longer attend the New Yorker Festival, after the magazine announced Steve Bannon would headline the three-day event.

Remnick removed Bannon from the lineup within minutes of the backlash.

Bannon’s attendance brought a fast backlash because Remnick (among others at the New Yorker) has been consistently critical of the Trump administration. Trump’s former chief strategist is also reviled on the left for his embrace of nationalism, which some of his critics say is just thinly veiled white nationalism.

Bannon, who led Breitbart News when it published stories that belittled illegal immigrants, feminists, and LGBTQ people, took over Trump’s campaign in summer 2016, later serving as Trump’s White House adviser and strategist. He exited in August 2017, in what the president later described as a firing. Bannon then returned to Breitbart, but stepped down when Trump went after him because of his quotes in the book “Fire and Fury.”

In the book, Bannon accused the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., of attending a “treasonous” meeting with Russian operatives. But he later backtracked and said he was criticizing ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, not Trump Jr.

Read Remnick’s full letter to the New Yorker staff below:

In 2016, Steve Bannon played a critical role in electing the current President of the United States. On Election Night I wrote a piece for our website that this event represented “a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.” Unfortunately, this was, if anything, an understatement of what was to come.

Today, The New Yorker announced that, as part of our annual Festival, I would conduct an interview with Bannon. The reaction on social media was critical and a lot of the dismay and anger was directed at me and my decision to engage him. Some members of the staff, too, reached out to say that they objected to the invitation, particularly the forum of the festival.

The effort to interview Bannon at length began many months ago. I originally reached out to him to do a lengthy interview with “The New Yorker Radio Hour.” He knew that our politics could not be more at odds–he reads The New Yorker–but he said he would do it when he had a chance. It was only later that the idea arose of doing that interview in front of an audience.

The main argument for not engaging someone like Bannon is that we are giving him a platform and that he will use it, unfiltered, to propel further the “ideas” of white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, and illiberalism. But to interview Bannon is not to endorse him. By conducting an interview with one of Trumpism’s leading creators and organizers, we are hardly pulling him out of obscurity. Ahead of the mid-term elections and with 2020 in sight, we’d be taking the opportunity to question someone who helped assemble Trumpism. Early this year, Michael Lewis interviewed Bannon, who made it plain how he viewed his work in the campaign. “We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall,” Bannon said. “This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” To hear this was valuable, as it revealed something about the nature of the speaker and the campaign he helped to lead.

The point of an interview, a rigorous interview, particularly in a case like this, is to put pressure on the views of the person being questioned. 

There’s no illusion here. It’s obvious that no matter how tough the questioning, Bannon is not going to burst into tears and change his view of the world. He believes he is right and that his ideological opponents are mere “snowflakes.” The question is whether an interview has value in terms of fact, argument, or even exposure, whether it has value to a reader or an audience. Which is why Dick Cavett, in his time, chose to interview Lester Maddox and George Wallace. Or it’s why Oriana Fallaci, in “Interview with History,” a series of question-and-answer meetings with Henry Kissinger and Ayatollah Khomeini and others, contributed something to our understanding of those figures. Fallaci hardly changed the minds of her subjects, but she did add something to our understanding of who they were. This isn’t a First Amendment question; it’s a question of putting pressure on a set of arguments and prejudices that have influenced our politics and a President still in office.

Some on social media have said that there is no point in talking to Bannon because he is no longer in the White House. But Bannon has already exerted enormous impact on Trump; his rhetoric, ideas, and tactics are evident in much of what this President does and says and intends. We heard Bannon in the inaugural address, which announced this Presidency’s divisiveness, in the Muslim ban, and in Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville.What’s more, Bannon has not retired. His attempt to get Roy Moore elected in Alabama failed but he has gone on to help further the trend of illiberal, nationalist movements around the country and abroad.

There are many ways for a publication like ours to do its job: investigative reporting; pointed, well-argued opinion pieces; Profiles; reporting from all over the country and around the world; radio and video interviews; even live interviews. At the same time, many of our readers, including some colleagues, have said that the Festival is different, a different kind of forum. It’s also true that we pay an honorarium, that we pay for travel and lodging. (Which does not happen, of course, when we interview someone for an article or for the radio.) I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues–and I’ve re-considered. I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this. Our writers have interviewed Steve Bannon for The New Yorker before, and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.

–David Remnick

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