Steve Bannon dropped from New Yorker festival after invite sparks anger

Magazine rescinds invitation after guests including Jim Carrey and Judd Apatow pledge to withdraw from event

The announcement that Steve Bannon would headline the New Yorker Festival in October caused a storm of controversy on Monday, leading a Pulitzer-winning writer to complain, guests to pull out and the invitation to be swiftly withdrawn.

The magazine’s editor, David Remnick, first told the New York Times he would interview the former Trump aide and chief White House strategist in front of a live audience, with “every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation”.

The audience, Remnick said, would “by its presence, [put] a certain pressure on a conversation that an interview alone doesn’t do. You can’t jump on and off the record.”

But Bannon’s espousal of far-right views and ties to white nationalist and alt-right groups have made him a polarising figure.

After the Times piece was published, the New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz triggered a tide of outrage on social media when she tweeted: “I love working for [the New Yorker] but I’m beyond appalled by this … I have already made that very clear to David Remnick. You can, too.”

She then provided a New Yorker email address.

Schulz won a Pulitzer prize in 2016 for The Really Big One, a piece about the likelihood of a huge earthquake hitting the US west coast.

She added: “I dearly love the magazine and I’m daily grateful to be a part of it. But I also believe that we owe those things we love the gift of honest criticism. (Also that we owe our own conscience obedience.)”

The Hollywood names Jim Carrey, John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt and Judd Apatow were among scheduled guests who said on social media that they would withdraw from the 19th festival, which will run from 5 to 7 October.

Late on Monday, in a note announcing the cancellation of the interview that was immediately tweeted by staff writers, Remnick justified the invitation. It would not have provided an “unfiltered” platform for Bannon’s “‘ideas’ of white nationalism, racism, anti-semitism and illiberalism”, he said, adding that “to interview Bannon is not to endorse him”.

A statement from David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, explaining his decision to no longer include Steve Bannon in the 2018 New Yorker Festival.

— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) September 3, 2018

But he said: “I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues – and I’ve re-considered. I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this.”

He added: “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.”

Bannon managed Donald Trump’s campaign in the final months of the 2016 election and was chief White House strategist until August the following year. He left in the aftermath of the deadly extremist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In January this year he lost his role at Breitbart News and was excommunicated from Trump’s circle after he was extensively quoted in Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s explosive tell-all about the Trump White House.

In his note, Remnick said Bannon had “exerted enormous impact on Trump” and “has not retired”.

“His attempt to get Roy Moore elected in Alabama failed,” Remnick wrote, “but he has gone on to help further the trend of illiberal, nationalist movements around the country and abroad.”

Bannon has travelled widely, passing comment on politics and supporting rightwing groups. In March, he appeared at an event staged by the Financial Times in New York. On Monday, an interview was broadcast on Australian television.

On 9 September, the second anniversary of the day Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “deplorables”, Bannon will release a film entitled Trump@War. He told Axios: “If you’re a deplorable, you’ll literally be standing on your chair with your pitchfork saying: ‘I’ve got to get people out to vote.’”

Bannon said in a statement: “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.”

Schulz, who thanked readers “for the unequivocal public response”, asked angry Twitter users not to cancel their New Yorker subscriptions.


Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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