Why Uninviting Steve Bannon from The New Yorker Festival is Bad for Journalism


We all know the New Yorker as the elite mag that everyone likes to discuss to sound smarter.  Well ironically, The New Yorker did something so stupid that it might have just lost its ranking as a thought provoking publication.

The New Yorker Festival is an annual fall event hosted by the magazine consisting of famous speakers, film screenings and musical performances. Keep in mind this is how the mag makes most of its money.  

At the beginning of this month, editor of The New Yorker David Remnick decided to invite and then UNINVITE Steve Bannon from attending the upcoming festival. To say this sparked controversy is an understatement….

Remnick was going to interview Bannon in front of the festival audience and ask him hard-hitting questions in what Remnick thought would be an intensely oppositional conversation.

However, after receiving heavy backlash on Twitter for his choice to have the former White House Chief Strategist and right-wing political figure attend the liberal magazine’s festival, Remnick promptly uninvited Bannon.

Here’s how the drama went down and why Remnick’s decision makes his publication, and journalism in general, look bad.

Sept. 3, 2018:

7:45 a.m.

The New Yorker releases the lineup for its annual festival this October. Many famous people are part of the lineup, but one name sparks the strongest reaction: Stephen Bannon.

Throughout the day, Remnick and The New Yorker receive criticism and angry backlash from the public, their readers, people headlining the festival and even from their own staff:

11:44 a.m.

American web-blogger Xeni Jardin tweets that she will cancel her subscription to the magazine after questioning how much the publication is paying Bannon to attend its festival. “He gets none of my money,” Jardin tweeted.

2:15 p.m.

New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz tweets that she is “beyond appalled” at Remnick’s decision to invite Bannon to the festival.

3:38 p.m.

Kieran Healy at Duke University tweets his opinion; saying that in return for Bannon attending The New Yorker Festival, famous New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast will illustrate for Stormfront, a Neo-Nazi internet forum.

6:35 p.m.

Comedian John Mulaney tweets that he will not perform if Bannon attends. Mulaney compares the potential Bannon interview to “PT Barnum level horseshit.”

6:47 p.m.

Director and producer Judd Apatow tweets that he will not attend if Bannon does, because he “will not take part in an event that normalizes hate.” He then advises The New Yorker to “read some their own reporting about [Bannon’s] ideology.”

6:55 p.m.

Actor Jim Carrey who is to speak at the festival tweets that he will also not be in attendance if Bannon is.

7:18 p.m.

Comedian Patton Oswalt pulls out of the festival with a tweet to The New Yorker: “See if Milo Yiannopoulos is free?” Yiannopoulos is an alt-right fanatic who writes for the extreme right-wing news publication formerly run by Bannon, Breitbart News.

7:43 p.m.

The New Yorker tweets out a statement from Remnick explaining his decision to uninvite Bannon from the festival. Remnick says that the purpose of an interview “particularly in a case like this, is to put pressure on the views of the person being questioned.” Remnick defends his reasoning behind wanting to interview Bannon, but says he has ultimately decided that a festival is not the appropriate forum for the situation.

There were only about ten hours between the release of the festival lineup and the removal of Bannon from that lineup.

The question now is, what does this decision say about The New Yorker? What does this decision say about journalism?

The people who opposed Bannon at the festival had valid reasons, but the issue here is that complaints on a social media platform drove the editor-in-chief of a major news magazine to revoke a decision he made merely hours before.

This is clearly an embarrassing look for The New Yorker, and it’s also a concerning issue for the future of journalism. If backlash on Twitter causes The New Yorker to change its mind, what will stop angry conservative Facebook posts from causing the New York Times to no longer publish articles about Trump?

When the fourth estate starts obeying the cries of social media, where does it end?

On the other hand, disinviting such a polarizing figure does not have to be viewed as caving into a social media mob.

While adversarial journalism is important, there is something wrong with giving a microphone to someone who’s career was built on the antithesis of truth in journalism. Sometimes there is wisdom in the crowds.