November 7, 2019

Anonymous anti-Trump author censured: Hachette holds hard line


Last week we posted our admittedly somewhat jaded reactions to the news that the anonymous author of the much-discussed anti-Trump op-ed in the New York Times has written a book. Well, the White House is not taking this latest volley of criticism lying down, that’s for sure! According to both ABC and CNN, Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt, carrying water for his globe-trotting boss William Barr, wrote a strongly worded letter to Hachette, the book’s publisher. According to Hunt’s letter:

[The] publication of the book may violate that official’s legal obligations under one or more nondisclosure agreements, including nondisclosure agreements that are routinely required with respect to information obtained in the course of one’s official responsibilities or as a condition for access to classified information … We request that you immediately provide us with your representations that the author did not sign any nondisclosure agreement and that the author did not have access to any classified information in connection with government service. If you cannot make those representations, we ask that you immediately provide either the nondisclosure agreements the author signed or the dates of the author’s service and the agencies where the author was employed, so that we may determine the terms of the author’s nondisclosure agreements and ensure that they have been followed.

Whew! That was a mouthful! And it sure sounds like censorship to us … Employing the famous “dueling lawyer” tactic, Hachette parried with a statement from their own attorney, one Carol Ross, stating that the publisher was “not party to any nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government that would require any pre-publication review of this book.” Take that! And also, what? Perhaps feeling a little left out, the American Civil Liberties Union jumped into the fray with their own statement, calling the White House’s request “wholly inappropriate and legally baseless.” No word from our friends at PEN America yet…

In another part of the forest, the Times had itself suggested that the author’s identity was bound to be discovered sooner or later, especially with the advent of “increasingly sophisticated forensic author identification software, which matches prose style to other published works” and “has been used to solve literary mysteries and unmask authors writing under pseudonyms.” Wow, New York Times! And also: where can we lay our hands on this software? It could possibly come in handy in our line of work!



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.