- The New Yorker on Monday announced that Steve Bannon, the nationalist former White House chief strategist, would headline The New Yorker Festival’s 19th edition.
- Prominent Twitter users, including some New Yorker staff members, quickly attacked the decision; within hours, several top celebrities announced they would not attend the festival.
- The New Yorker reversed course by Monday evening, saying it would look for another format to interview Bannon.
- While polarising, Bannon has enjoyed significant political success, and his announced presence arguably dismantled a top-tier event celebrating intellectualism in media.
The New Yorker’s choice to have the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a far-right nationalist whose views are largely condemned as racist, headline its annual festival brought on a Twitter firestorm that saw big names pull out in droves and the vaunted magazine swiftly reverse course.
David Remnick, the editor of the magazine known for its deep reporting, high-minded think pieces, and New York state of mind, would interview Bannon onstage in front of an audience.
“I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation,” Remnick told The Times.
By 5 p.m. that same day, however, Remnick issued a lengthy statement saying he had “re-considered” after talking to colleagues.
“I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns,” Remnick wrote, adding: “If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz had earlier tweeted that she was “appalled” by the decision and encouraged others to email The New Yorker.
Before Bannon was disinvited, big names including Jim Carrey, John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt, and Judd Apatow announced within minutes of one another that they’d no longer attend the event.
Even after Remnick backed off from the Bannon interview, the late-night host Jimmy Fallon and the comedian Hasan Minhaj announced their departures.
So in a matter of hours on a holiday Monday, the Twittersphere rejected and dismantled a festival that represents some of the top tier of US media intellectualism, all because of Bannon.
Bannon seized on the opportunity to bash Remnick as a coward and to paint the withdrawn celebrities as a mob of oversensitive complainers with political motives.
“The reason for my acceptance was simple: I would be facing one of the most fearless journalists of his generation,” Bannon told The Times. “In what I would call a defining moment, David Remnick showed he was gutless when confronted by the howling online mob.”
“Progressives are triggered like never before,” Bannon added.
While Bannon refers to himself as an economic nationalist, rather than a white ethnic nationalist, he has frequently supported movements accused of Islamophobic or otherwise racist smears.
Though Bannon’s close associations with far-right movements are reviled by many celebrities and much of Twitter, he has embraced labels such as “racist” and enjoyed tremendous success as an early supporter of and aide to President Donald Trump.
“You argue for your freedom and they call you a xenophobe. You argue for your country and they call you a racist,” Bannon told a French far-right gathering earlier this year. “Let them call you racist … Wear it as a badge of honour.”
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