The Authors Guild condemns the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Hachette, the publisher of the forthcoming book A Warning, to provide identifying information about its anonymous author prior to the book’s publication on November 19, 2019. We applaud Hachette and the author’s agents for standing up to what can only be described as bullying and intimidation by the administration to quell speech it views as being critical of the President.
The book, a tell-all account from inside the White House by a senior Trump administration official who made headlines in September 2018 with the New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” provoked a letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to Hachette and the author’s literary agency. The letter, dated November 4, 2019, and signed by U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joseph H. Hunt, warned that the book’s publication would violate the author’s non-disclosure agreements and demanded either the production of the author’s non-disclosure agreements to assure the government that no such violation would occur, or the “dates of the author’s service and the agencies where the author was employed” so that the DOJ can determine whether the non-disclosure obligations have been followed. Hachette has said that it will not comply with the demands, which clearly have no legal basis. In its reply, the publisher told the DOJ that it was “not party to any non-disclosure agreements with the U.S. government that would require any pre-publication review of this book.”
This is not the first time President Trump and his administration have attempted to suppress news that it perceives to be critical through intimidation tactics against journalists and their publishers. Last year, President Trump notoriously tried to quash the publication of not one but two books about the Trump White House: Omarosa Manigault-Newman’s Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House and Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. Trump advanced similar specious arguments about confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements in those attempts. Both attempts failed. What’s more unsettling about this latest attempt to stop publication of a book critical of the White House is that the letters are not being sent by Trump’s private attorneys—they are coming from the government itself—not only indicating that the administration is no longer interested in maintaining the illusion of a firewall between the government and President Trump’s personal interests, but that it is escalating its intimidation of journalists and publishers.
By demanding that a publisher reveal the identity of an anonymous author, the government is also attacking authors’ fundamental right to remain anonymous. As Authors Guild President Doug Preston stated: “The right to remain anonymous goes back at least to January 10, 1776, when Thomas Paine, in fear of being arrested for treason, chose to publish anonymously his pamphlet Common Sense. Then there’s James Weldon Johnson, the great African-American civil rights leader, who in 1912 published his roman à clef, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, anonymously because it confronted so directly and controversially the rampant racism of his time that he feared not only for his safety, but that exposure would damage his successful career as a diplomat. There are many reasons for an author to seek anonymity. The bullying attempt by the president to strip the author of protective anonymity is profoundly un-American and contrary to our founding principles as a nation, especially the right to free expression.”
The right to publish anonymously is also embedded in the First Amendment. Writing in his opinion in Talley v. California, Supreme Court Justice Black said that “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.” And that “There can be no doubt….an identification requirement would…restrict freedom to distribute information, and thereby freedom of expression.”
The Authors Guild denounces the actions of the Department of Justice and the Trump administration and calls on them to cease their intimidation tactics and attacks on our constitutional right to free speech and expression. Attacks on speech and expression in order to silence critical voices are the tactics of tyrants and dictators; they do not befit the Department of Justice or the American president. We stand with the book’s author, agents, and publisher who have shown great courage in defending the free speech rights of authors.