The Whatever Digest, 9/4/18

Good morning! Let’s get to this thing.


Steve Bannon and the New Yorker Well, this was predictable enough, to anyone who wasn’t David Remnick: The New Yorker announced that Bannon would be the headliner of its upcoming “festival,” in conversation with Remnick, who is the magazine’s editor-in-chief. That didn’t sit particularly well with much of the New Yorker’s staff, or, more importantly in this case, many other participants of the festival, who all started dropping out rather than share the program with Bannon. Between those drop outs, staff disapproval and a wholly predictable backlash on Twitter, Remnick bowed to the inevitable and dropped Bannon from the program with a somewhat defensive statement. Bannon, of course, was gleeful about this, calling Remnick “gutless,” which is what Remnick deserves for inviting that fascist piece of shit to his festival of ideas in the first place.

As a former journalist, I can understand Remnick’s thinking on this one: He’d been angling to interview Bannon for a while, and the idea of getting that festering lump of white “supremacy” on a public stage where he couldn’t equivocate or finesse his way out of his shitty racist ideas seemed like a good one. The problem was that Remnick was thinking with his journalist brain and not his event coordinator brain. The event coordinator brain should have realized that inviting Bannon to a New Yorker-branded “festival of ideas,” complete with travel expenses and honorarium, was in effect paying Bannon to take on the New Yorker imprimatur for his ideas. It’s not reportage; it’s the New Yorker saying “these ideas are important enough that we paid to get them on our stage.” And note well that Bannon was meant to be the headliner.

Which is of course the New Yorker’s, and Remnick’s, privilege — it’s perfectly within its rights to book a fascist piece of shit to its festival and hope people pay to see Remnick chat that fascist piece of shit up on a stage. But Remnick’s event coordinator brain should have probably realized there was going to be a backlash to that. It’s not just the New Yorker’s brand associating with shitty fascism up there on that stage; it’s the personal brand of everyone else on the program as well. Strangely enough, a fair number of other people didn’t want their brands smeared with shitty fascism, and they were perfectly within their rights not to participate for that reason. Remnick’s problem then, as an event coordinator, was realizing that soon his “festival of ideas” would be nothing but shitty fascism unless he dropped Bannon. Oh, and that his staff hated it. Oh, and that social media hated it too.

Remnick never saw the backlash coming, I suspect (and I fully admit that this is me being charitable to Remnick), because he never got out of his journalist brain. He saw someone he wanted to interview, saw the dynamic of the live stage as one where he was likely to get more truth out of Bannon than otherwise, and didn’t think of anything else about the situation until it was too late. And again as a former journalist, I can sympathize. Bannon’s a reasonable “get” for a story. But this wasn’t just an interview, or just journalism. It was a whole circus. Or a festival, which is close enough in this case.


Bringing things around to me, my commentary above brings up the question of whether I, had I been invited to the New Yorker Festival, would drop when Bannon was added to the program. I suspect yes, because I think he’s a fucking horrible person peddling fucking horrible ideas and I’d prefer not to be in the same state with him, much less in the same building, and also because I have the luxury of not needing a particular “festival of ideas” for publicity. I don’t need to tolerate the presence of an actual fascist white supremacist to sell books. I can nope right out of that. Bannon’s on my “don’t share the same air” list, along with Stephen Miller, Seb Gorka and indeed a fair share of the current administration, including of course Trump himself.

There are gradations to this philosophy. If, say, Ann Coulter was at the same book festival as I was, I wouldn’t share a stage or panel with her but I probably wouldn’t nope out of the festival entirely. I could probably be on a panel with Jonah Goldberg, although what panel that might be I have no idea. I’ve shared panels with people who were “sad puppy”-aligned in the past and probably would again, although I’d probably avoid any panels specifically about politics with them. There are people whose politics are emphatically not mine who I will gladly share a stage with on nearly any topic because they’re fun and interesting and give good panel. And so on.

(Other possible factors as examples of what else might go into the equation: Size of the festival — if someone I find objectionable is one of literally hundreds of guests, I can probably choose to avoid that one person without fuss — and also whether that person is a rank-and-file guest or a headliner/spotlight guest.)

On the flip side, I suspect my presence somewhere might earn a hard “nope” for some other people, which is of course fine as well. No one should be required to tolerate me, either. Science fiction conventions very often have a line in their programming surveys asking potential panelists who they don’t want to be on a panel with, and I think this is a very wise thing. Aside from politics, there are some people I don’t want to be on panels with because I dislike them, or I find them to be panel hogs, or because they can’t stop trying to make everything about their own work, or any other number of reasons. And again, vice versa; I’m sure there are people who don’t want to be on a panel with me for whatever reason. Good for them.

Does having a “don’t share the same air” list give me or anyone else a veto on an event’s other guests? I don’t think so. I’m not telling an event who they may invite, I’m simply saying who I choose not to associate with. I’m perfectly willing to remove myself rather than demand the event remove someone else. That seems the way to do things. And yes, certainly, if the presence of someone at an event causes too many other guest/performers to drop, then the event coordinators will have to do the calculus of whether that one person is worth keeping. But that’s a separate question from one’s own choice of whether to associate one’s person (or “brand”) with someone objectionable.


Speaking of choosing to associate or not, it appears that a proposed boycott of In-N-Out Burger (my favorite burger chain) has been called off, for reasons. People had proposed boycotting the chain because it recently donated $25,000 to the Californian Republican Party, and some folks had pinged me asking if I would support such a boycott due to the donation.

I was personally disinclined to support the boycott. One, I’ve known for a very long time that In-N-Out was owned by an evangelical family; I mean, come on, there are bible passages printed on their cups. That such a family or company might donate to the GOP is not exactly a surprise. Two, In-N-Out has also donated to the Democratic party in the past as well, so there’s that. Three, In-N-Out has always been good to its workers, paying substantially above the federal minimum wage and offering decent benefits. This is not a horrible company. Four, the California GOP is fairly hapless. I just couldn’t get worked up about it.

So, yes, I’ll be having a Double-Double the next time I’m in California. They are delicious.


And now, close out this first digest column of the month: Smudge.

40 Comments on “The Whatever Digest, 9/4/18”

  1. A Scalzi/Goldberg/others panel entitled “What is Fascism?” would be *fascinating*, albeit likely… er, raucous.

  2. Fine Smudge… And I suppose you could justify having Bannon as an interviewee based on journalism… but a headliner? Even as a journalist that doesn’t make sense

  3. I really like the digest as well; in particular, you bringing your journalist brain to bear on ‘how the fuck did the New Yorker invite Bannon?’ really shed some light on what was completely incomprehensible to me. Please keep doing it.

  4. Now you’ve got me wondering about the Venn diagram of panel hogs and [people who] can’t stop trying to make everything about their own work. In my limited experience there seems to be a 100% overlap between the two. (I’m including as hogs those who clearly wanted to be a panel hog, but were reigned in by the moderator.)

    Smudge is too stinking cute.

  5. Being from Virginia I’ve never been to In and Out Burger, but it was fun watching lefties from California trolling the boycotters. When your own side is making fun of you then you probably need to rethink.

  6. Why don’t you do Dragon*Con in Atlanta? I saw you there several years ago but it seems you haven’t been attending lately.
    Would you do a military SciFi authors panel with John Ringo? 😏

  7. The New Yorker episode seems like a nice example of how to implement norms/avoid normalizing intolerable behavior: it’s up to everybody. We can’t wait for somebody else to do the work. I fear we will have a greater need to remember this sooner than we would like.

  8. Stephen Baer:

    I haven’t been back to DragonCon because a) by the time it rolls around I’m usually tired from Worldcon and/or on tour for a book, b) because they haven’t asked me to come as an invited guest and my publisher hasn’t paid my way to it, c) I don’t want to bother trying to get a hotel room because it’s nuts.

    That said, I have nothing against D*C and will probably get to it sooner or later. It’s mostly scheduling and availability.

    Also, I think I have been on a panel with Ringo at some point? Maybe?

  9. With regard to In And Out, on one hand, I’ve come to the conclusion that the GOP has pretty much gone mad with rage and hate in the last ten years. IMHO anyone who donates to them doesn’t have a moral bone in their body and is fair target for a boycott. If you want to deal with sane conservatives, there are always the Blue Dog Democrats.

    That being said, the likelihood of an In And Out boycott being successful without (at the very, very least) someone carefully preparing the ground for months in advance is close to zero, so in practical terms I’m not worried that it isn’t going to happen.

  10. off topic but is there a way to suggest a topic for your next digest? would love to hear your thinky-thoughts about Nike and Colin Kaepernick and all that is going on with that right now.

  11. Smudge is freaking adorable.

    I applaud your stance on choosing not to be on panels or conventions with icky people. (Yes, icky people is the scientific term, why do you ask?)

    Luckily for me, this is not a choice I will likely ever have to make! As I am mostly ghostwriting fiction these days and I don’t think anyone ever asks ghosts to be on panels.

  12. I was at the ConCarolinas panel where they dropped you in with some of the puppies. It wasn’t as fun as the other panel you had that day, but it could have been far more contentious than it turned out to be. It was obvious the organizers were hoping to stir something up, and I don’t think anyone there was really inclined to give it to them. I do recall some snark on your blog later, more of a “really, guys?” than anything else.

    Overall, differing opinions can make for a good, interesting panel. Nazis, less so.

  13. Well, a lot of the discussion about Bannon has been from a white person-centric point of view. Well and good, but I think POCs have a bit more skin in the game, and they’re put into much more of a pickle if they were part of the “festival”


    Yeah, folks should have been aware In and Out is evangelical; so is the local (PNW) burger chain, who also treats their workers better than industry normal. They are people who put their Christian ideals into practice, unlike many others.

    However, their support of un-spiritual political leaders should not go uncommented upon either. The choices is either to patronize them or to be public in your disapproval. I have no problem with people doing one or both.

  14. Mark your calendars people, for on September 4, 2018, John Scalzi gave not one, not two, but three shits about Steve Bannon.

  15. Ranson:

    I don’t have any memory of that — there was one where there were some Puppy nominees on it, but every one of them was lovely to me, and I don’t recall any tension during or after.


    He’s a load of shit, it’s true.

  16. @Kate George – I think a panel on ghost writing fiction, by ghost writers, could be really interesting. Just remember to make yourselves visible.

  17. Scalzi:

    Oh, I agree, the panel itself was fine (I may have misremembered some of the panelists as being more involved than just puppy nominees). The snark I recall was more just an offhand comment from a Whatever post about how the organizers may have been expecting more fire and fury than they got.

    In any case, I may be mistaken. Regardless, it was a good weekend for me. I got to meet you, got my copy of Fuzzy Nation signed, had breakfast with Joel Hodsgson. Could have been far worse.

  18. I think Gene Demby’s point re: Bannon-as-interview-subject here and in his follow-up tweets: is a reasonable counter to Remnick’s “idea of getting that festering lump of white “supremacy” on a public stage where he couldn’t equivocate or finesse his way out of his shitty racist ideas”. Bannon would just Gish Gallop through his racist bullshit the way these people always do, Remnick would struggle and fail to fact-check and push back on all of it the way interviewers always do, and the only result would be a video online with “The New Yorker” name under Steve Bannon’s face while he spews something right out of David Duke’s diary.

    This feels like yet another instance of “mainstream journalists still somehow don’t understand how this game is played”, which was maybe somewhat excusable when Gish was still a fringe whacko and GG wasn’t a twinkle in any monster’s eye (so, like, the ’90s), but falling for it in 2018 in unforgivable, especially for people who are supposed to be dialed-in, like, say, the editor of the New Yorker.

  19. I’m not seeing a lot of good reasons to give airspace to nastys like Bannon- I mean, them and their foulness has been a very substantial part of the total of political speech (and action etc) for a very, very long time now. Why waste my time listening to trash *again* ?
    Besides, I couldn’t be at this event to provide the (obviously) required punch on the nose.

  20. Thank you for helping clarify my thinking re Bannon vs Remnick. It’s good Remnick un-invited Bannon, though I’d have liked to hear the battle. His team talked him out of it.
    But people were threatening to cancel their subscription, which I think was way wrong.
    And thanks for the pin-up of Smudge. That is one photogenic kitten!

  21. I love how you don’t sugar coat your feelings about Bannon. He is a racist piece of shit and he needs to be called that more often.

  22. Excellent piece. More please.

    I too would like to read your thoughts on Colin K & Nike.

    The Smudge photo undid me. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breath. My cat Tucker wasn’t happy something else took all my attention away from him.

    Such a great photo of Smudge!

  23. Dear Kate,

    First, what Nonny said, I’d love to hear a panel on that topic.

    Second, don’t sell yourself short. At most of the cons I go to fiction authors are not the majority of panelists. They are ordinary fans like thee and me. OK, now I’m a fiction author, but for 90% of my time in fandom, I wasn’t. During which I was on hundreds of panels. Probably over 500. Because (a) I volunteered and (b) I give good panel.

    If ya thunks and tawks gud, people will want to hear you on a panel.

    pax / Ctein

  24. I’m not seeing a lot of good reasons to give airspace to nastys like Bannon- I mean, them and their foulness has been a very substantial part of the total of political speech (and action etc) for a very, very long time now. Why waste my time listening to trash *again* ?

    Like the Bell Curve, so-called intellectuals can’t resist circling around white supremacy while still proclaiming their innate fairness. Hah.

  25. @RameyLady: My profound respect for that piece. I have learned important things today from it, and indeed you raise and address important questions.

  26. I really, really like this format, sir – thank you for revisiting it! Not surprisingly given your career trajectory, you are a master of the pithy micro-essay, and as always, I enjoy reading your commentary on whatever topic happens to catch your interest on a given day.

    Is the daily digest format less of a time-sink than doing a 2,000-word essay? I mean, I read and enjoy your longer essays as much as the short ones, but after all, the blog doesn’t pay the bills. Time you spend on a 2,000-word essay is time you don’t spend writing pay copy (though I realize that some of the essays here do eventually make it into a format that generates revenue). I would imagine that there is something of a balancing act between writing for the blog where folks can read the content for free vs. writing something that people will pay you to read. Unless you’re planning to move the blog to a paid subscription format, of course, though I’ve never gotten the impression that was under consideration.

    In any case, thanks for giving me things to mull over, and I look forward to seeing where your flights of fancy take you next.

  27. As I understand it, In-N-Out gave $25,000 to the California Republican Party. $25,000? Really? In this age of big money politics, $25,000 is chump change.
    This being California we’re talking about, I doubt you could fix a parking ticket for 25 grand, much less buy a Senator.

  28. Agree fully with your take on the Bannon situation, and, along the same lines of protocoach, I wonder if David Remnick just does not have a grasp of what is going on politically today, or he just does not know how to navigate these new national waters. Before this Bannon fiasco, there was the boneheaded handling of the Ryan Lizza situation at the New Yorker. Remnick simply seems out of his depth.

  29. I’m going to go out slightly on a limb, here, and guesstimate that the California Republican Party haven’t done significant evil lately, even if they weren’t almost completely shut out of statewide office since Der Gubernator, because, thank you, Pete Wilson. (Their candidate for Governor in November, one John Cox, is IMO a bit of a loon, but he’s currently projected to lose by 24 points, so he’s more a crank totem than a candidate.)

    Ms. Snyder-Ellingson (the In-N-Out Burger heiress) giving them 0.5% of the price of a week’s worth of statewide TV campaign ads is very slightly vexing, but less so than the typical gnat bite, IMO.

  30. Borrowing my reference to the obvious joke when Nova jumps in our laundry basket, “Smudge, you’re making it too easy!”

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