Controversy erupted on Monday when The New Yorker announced that Steve Bannon, the former White House advisor, was going to headline the magazine’s festival in October. Bannon will be sharing the stage with New Yorker editor David Remnick. “I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation,” Remnick told The New York Times.
However severe the grilling Remnick intends to inflict on Bannon, many observers were still left wondering if the venerable magazine should really be giving its imprimatur to so notorious a bigot as Bannon.
Writer Richard Yeselson argued that even if he event was a mistake, rescinding the invitation Bannon is no solution. Instead, Yeselson contents, Bannon’s ideas should be publicly challenged.
Yeselson makes a strong point about the problem with de-platforming, which would only serve to shore up Bannon even more by turning him into a faux free speech martyr.
Yet it is hard to defend the event on journalistic grounds. After all, Bannon is no longer the prominent figure he was even a year an a half ago. He’s been elbowed out of both the White House and Breitbart. He’s now a marginal figure in American public life, interesting for the role he briefly played in promoting Trump but not otherwise important.
If the goal is to figure out what the Trump administration is up to, it would be better to get figures like Stephen Miller or Jared Kushner. If the intent is to understand the intellectual origins of the current American right, writers like Pat Buchanan (the founder of The American Conservative) or Daniel McCarthy (the editor of Modern Age) would be vastly superior. Bannon has very little to offer either in terms of insider dirt about the White House or clear articulation of right-wing thinking.
The Bannon invitation has created a genuine pickle for The New Yorker, one that has no obvious solution.
Update: In a statement on Monday, Remnick announced that Bannon would not be interviewed at the festival. “I’ve changed my mind,” he wrote. “There is a better way to do this. 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.”