Penguin Random House Staff Confront Publisher About New Jordan Peterson Book

During a tense town hall, staff cried and expressed dismay with the publishing giant's decision to publish 'Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.'

Nov 24 2020, 9:16pmSnap

Several Penguin Random House Canada employees confronted management about the company’s decision to publish a new book by controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson at an emotional town hall Monday, and dozens more have filed anonymous complaints, according to four workers who spoke to VICE World News. 

On Monday, Penguin Random House Canada, Canada’s largest book publisher and a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, announced it will be publishing Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Peterson, to be released in March 2021. The book will be published by Portfolio in the U.S. and Penguin Press in the U.K., both part of the Penguin Random House empire. 

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Four Penguin Random House Canada employees, who did not want to be named due to concerns over their employment, said the company held a town hall about the book Monday, during which executives defended the decision to publish Peterson while employees cited their concerns about platforming someone who is popular in far-right circles. 

“He is an icon of hate speech and transphobia and the fact that he’s an icon of white supremacy, regardless of the content of his book, I’m not proud to work for a company that publishes him,” a junior employee who is a member of the LGBTQ community and who attended the town hall told VICE World News. 

Another employee said “people were crying in the meeting about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives.” They said one co-worker discussed how Peterson had radicalized their father and another talked about how publishing the book will negatively affect their non-binary friend. 

“The company since June has been doing all these anti-racist and allyship things and them publishing Peterson’s book completely goes against this. It just makes all of their previous efforts seem completely performative,” the employee added.

A third employee told VICE World News the company’s diversity and inclusion committee received at least 70 anonymous messages about Peterson’s book, and only a couple are in favour of the decision to publish it.

In an email statement, Penguin Random House Canada said it is open to its employees’ feedback. 

“We announced yesterday that we will publish Jordan Peterson’s new book Beyond Order this coming March. Immediately following the announcement, we held a forum and provided a space for our employees to express their views and offer feedback. Our employees have started an anonymous feedback channel, which we fully support. We are open to hearing our employees’ feedback and answering all of their questions. We remain committed to publishing a range of voices and viewpoints,” the statement said. 

The company did not answer any of the specific questions sent by VICE World News. 

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Peterson, 58, a University of Toronto professor of psychology turned anti-political correctness crusader, first ignited international controversy in September 2016, when he posted a lecture to YouTube stating he refused to use gender neutral pronouns for students and condemning Bill C-16, legislation that increased protections for trans and non-binary Canadians.  

He quickly became popular in right-wing and libertarian circles across the globe, becoming a regular guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He amassed 3.25 million YouTube followers, who tuned into his lectures on why white privilege isn’t real, and how masculinity is under attack. At one point he was making $80,000 a month on Patreon. His book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, included instructions like “stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world,” and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, according to Penguin Random House. 

The Penguin Random House Canada employees said the company was secretive about releasing Peterson’s new book; one said the title didn’t appear in an internal database that normally includes all future books. 

“I feel it was deliberately hidden and dropped on us once it was too late to change course,” said the junior employee who is a member of the LGBTQ community. The employee said workers would have otherwise considered a walkout, similar to what Hachette employees did when the publisher announced it would be publishing Woody Allen’s memoir; Hachette later dropped the book. 

In an email viewed by VICE World News, Kristin Cochrane, chief executive officer of Penguin Random House Canada, invited staff to discuss the announcement with Anne Collins, publisher of Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group, the imprint under which Peterson’s book will be published. 

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“How we think about our publishing—and the range of books and authors that we publish—is an evolving process and part of an ever-changing conversation, and one I’m eager to have in a bigger way with all of you,” Cochrane said in the email, referencing a larger meeting planned for the new year. 

“In the meantime, though, I realize some of you might have thoughts to share on this particular publication, and so shortly following this note you will receive an invitation from Anne Collins…where she will share more information about this new book and, more importantly, our reasons for publishing it.” 

Collins opened the meeting by talking about how Peterson has “helped millions of people who are on the fringes of society who would otherwise be radicalized by alt-right groups,” according to one of the four employees who spoke to VICE World News. 

“She was trying to kind of spin it as a positive to be publishing this book,” the employee said. 

“(But) he’s the one who’s responsible for radicalizing and causing this surge of alt-right groups, especially on university campuses.” 

The employee said Collins noted her background in journalism and that it’s important to be publishing “a variety of voices.” 

The employee said Scott Sellers, director of marketing strategy, spoke about how the company has to work with writers whose views “we don’t necessarily support,” but that Sellers also defended Peterson by stating that he supports same-sex marriage. 

The employee said when Peterson previously came into the office to talk about 12 Rules for Life, “they would kind of do it secretly.” 

“They knew what they were doing wasn’t right and they knew so many people in the company were upset about him.” 

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The employee said they believe Penguin Random House Canada is publishing Peterson’s new book because 12 Rules for Life was incredibly successful—but that wasn’t a part of Monday’s conversation. 

“They’re not going to acknowledge the reason they're doing it is for money. I feel that would be the more honest route to go rather than making up excuses for Jordan Peterson,” they said. 

The employee said the company’s diversity and inclusion committee aired concerns about how this will affect other authors. 

“We publish a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community and what is the company going to do about making sure these authors are still feeling supported by a company that is supporting somebody who denies their existence,” the employee said. 

According to the employee, another person said they were instructed not to post anything critical of Peterson on their social media feeds when 12 Rules for Life was published; the employee said Cochrane said she didn’t recall that policy. 

All of the workers who spoke to VICE World News said if the book isn’t cancelled, they would like Penguin Random House Canada to consider donating the profits from the book to LGBTQ organizations. 

They said the company has not elaborated on how it will respond to the critical feedback, but as the book is being published in March, it will likely go to print soon. 

Peterson has maintained a very low-profile over the past year, as he has been dealing with serious health issues, which, according to his daughter, included a medically induced coma as he attempted to detox in Russia for a benzo dependence. In a subdued YouTube video released Monday, Peterson said he had been working on his 12 Rules sequel for the past three years.

 Correction: A previous version of this story said a non-binary employee spoke about how Peterson’s new book will negatively impact them. In fact, the employee was speaking about their non-binary friend.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter

Tagged:

Books, Canadian News, Jordan Peterson, penguin random house, worldnews, book publishing

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