I have a few thoughts on The New Yorker’s dis-invitation of Steve Bannon from its big festival thingamabob. David Remnick dropped Bannon in response to three factors, it seems: the Twitter mob, a staff revolt, and threats of boycotts from other speakers invited to the event.
First, I agree with those who think that he should never have been invited. Steve Bannon keeps failing in his various projects to overthrow the establishment or create a political mass movement. Were it not for the lavish media attention he still gets, he’d be a classic coffee-house revolutionary, regaling strangers about how he came “this close” to ruling and how, with a little help from you, he can get the revolution restarted. But because he provides relatively good quotes and calls back journalists, the mainstream media have an investment in keeping him more relevant that he really is. He was fired by Trump, defenestrated by Breitbart and the Mercers, and lives on largely as a useful prop for the media he claims to despise.
I think David Remnick would have asked very tough and interesting questions of Bannon. But he was still doing Bannon an enormous favor by offering him that platform.
Indeed, there’s a certain Baptists-and-Bootleggers dynamic at work with Bannon, but also with the alt-right. Many in the liberal media want Bannon or the alt-right to be the face of conservatism because Bannon represents the kind of enemy many liberals want to have. He may not be David Duke, but he dabbles in a politics that would make room for the Dukes of the world, and that’s all that liberals need to play guilt-by-association. (Bannon isn’t, to my knowledge, a racist of the alt-right variety, but he’s been open to making them part of his “Leninist” popular-front strategy.) As someone who wants to restore some of the old guardrails, I am glad so much of the liberal criticism of the invitation revolved around the concern it would “normalize” Bannon. It would be nice if more conservatives and journalists shared that concern.
All that said, there’s a big difference between mistakenly offering someone a platform and revoking it once offered. It’s one thing if new information emerges, but otherwise rescinding invitations is almost always a terrible mistake.
As David French noted last night on Twitter, “If they hadn’t invited him in the first place, no one in the world would be burning up Twitter saying, ‘Why isn’t Steve Bannon at the New Yorker event?’”
But by disinviting him, Bannon comes out even more of a winner, with more publicity and a hero-martyr narrative, and The New Yorker looks feckless for having appeased a Twitter mob.
Giving in to threats from other invited speakers looks pretty wimpy too. Judd Apatow said he wouldn’t come if Bannon was there. I have no problem with Apatow’s threat. But letting panelists dictate the agenda of an “ideas festival” kind of explodes the fiction that this thing is anything more than an entertainment event.
Caving to a staff uprising strikes me as a little different. I don’t think leaders of organizations should make it a habit, but it can be warranted. Magazines aren’t democracies, but they aren’t dictatorships either. Keeping Steve Bannon at your festival is not worth losing talented staff.
Still, if the bosses are going to let staffs have a veto over such things, maybe managers should spend a bit more time consulting with the troops beforehand?