Nobody wants to appear on a festival lineup alongside Steve Bannon

“This is PT Barnum level horseshit.”
September 4, 2018, 4:16pm

It took seven months for Steve Bannon to wear out his welcome in the White House, but the magazine thinkfluencer circuit appears even more cut-throat.

Just hours after the news broke Monday that the alt-right provocateur would headline The New Yorker’s annual festival, drawing howls of outrage and a threatened celebrity boycott of the event, the magazine’s editor announced he had thought better of it, and hurriedly withdrew the invitation.

Now a second high-profile publication is under growing pressure to kick Trump’s former chief strategist from its festival bill, after two scheduled guests said they would also pull out unless Bannon was booted from the lineup.

Bannon, the controversial former Breitbart chairman who was campaign manager for Trump’s presidential run, is due to appear at the New York session of The Economist’s Open Future festival on Sept. 15, in a debate with the publication’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton-Beddoes, on the future of liberalism. But the inclusion of Bannon, a key leader of the so-called alt-right, who in March told supporters of France’s far-right National Rally to wear their racism as a ”badge of pride,” has proved beyond the pale for some of his fellow speakers.

Amid the storm of criticism of The New Yorker’s decision to feature Bannon in their October event, two scheduled speakers at The Economist’s festival announced they would pull out unless Bannon was removed from the lineup. Blair Imani, a black, queer and Muslim activist who is slated to also appear in New York on the topic of when liberal values collide, said Monday that she could not “in good conscience speak at a conference that is giving space and platform to Steve Bannon.”

British journalist Laurie Penny, due to appear on a London panel discussing the #MeToo movement, also announced she was pulling out unless Bannon was scratched. “I cannot in good conscience appear at an event which chooses to dignify a neo-nationalist like Steve Bannon,” she tweeted. “Unless this decision is reversed, I will not be attending.”

The Economist did not respond to VICE News’ questions before the publication of this article, but later tweeted out a lengthy statement from editor-in-chief Minton Beddoes, who said Bannon's invitation "will stand."

Minton Beddoes devoted much of the statement to explaining the magazine's decision to invite Bannon in the first place and its decision to keep him on the billing despite mounting criticism.

“The future of open societies will not be secured by like-minded people speaking to each other in an echo chamber, but by subjecting ideas and individuals from all sides to rigorous questioning and debate," Minton Beddoes wrote.

The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick rescinded his invitation to Bannon Monday, after a flurry of protests, including from writers on his staff. Kathryn Schulz, a Pulitzer winner for the magazine, tweeted that she was “beyond appalled” by Bannon’s inclusion and called on people who felt the same way to email the magazine and make their views known. Hours later, Remnick announced that he had revoked the invite, but maintained that his interview would not have given an unfiltered platform for Bannon’s ideology of “white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, and illiberalism.”

“There is a better way to do this,” he wrote. “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.”

In response, Bannon — who since his unceremonious ouster from the White House in August last year has been trying, with unclear results, to spark a populist insurgency in Europe — slammed Remnick as “gutless.”

“The reason for my acceptance was simple: I would be facing one of the most fearless journalists of his generation. In what I would call a defining moment, David Remnick showed he was gutless when confronted by the howling online mob,” he said.

That "mob" included Patton Oswalt, Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey, and Roxane Gay, among others. “I’m out,” tweeted comedian John Mulaney. “I genuinely support public intellectual debate, and have paid to see people speak with whom I strongly disagree. But this isn’t James Baldwin vs. William F. Buckley. This is PT Barnum–level horseshit.”

Yet Remnick’s decision to disinvite Bannon also attracted some criticism. “Huh. Call me old-fashioned. But I would have thought that the point of a festival of ideas was to expose the audience to ideas. If you only invite your friends over, it’s called a dinner party,” tweeted New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell in response to the news.

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon poses in Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

UPDATED (3:00 p.m. EST): This story has been updated to include a statement from The Economist.