There have been two interesting publishing controversies recently, one involving a book that a publisher chose not to publish, and one involving a book that a publisher did choose to publish.
The not-published book, of course, was THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, which Random House canceled after concerns were raised by an Islamic scholar about its contents. Random House was worried about a backlash and possible acts of violence, while some people were disappointed by the decision, such as Salman Rushdie, who charged that they gave in to “censorship by fear.”
Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster recently published a, shall we say, less than truthy smear of Barack Obama called OBAMA NATION, which promptly went straight to the top of bestseller lists everywhere. The Obama campaign issued a 40 page rebuttal and the book has been criticized in the press, prompting the Observer and Politico to wonder if Simon & Schuster will have to answer for the book and suffer a backlash.
So, with all of that fresh in your brain, here’s what I’m wondering: how much responsibility should a publisher bear for what they choose to publish and choose not to publish?
Is a publisher morally responsible for the content they publish, or should the publisher respond to public demand, stand back, and let the public and marketplace determine the merits of the books they publish?
Do publishers have a civic responsibility or should they let the public decide?