David Remnick, the magazine’s editor, originally defended the decision to include Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief White House strategist, in an interview with The New York Times on Monday. Bannon was not only featured, but the Times said he would be headlining The New Yorker Festival.
The New Yorker’s readers and staffers accused Remnick of giving a platform to Bannon’s racism and white nationalist agenda after the Times article. Kathyrn Schulz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist with The New Yorker, said she was “beyond appalled” by her employer’s decision on Twitter.
Other high-profile festival speakers, such as John Mulaney and Judd Apatow, threatened to pull out of their scheduled appearances if Bannon was headlining.
“I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think I’ve ignored their concerns,” Remnick said in a statement Monday evening. “I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues — and I’ve re-considered. I’ve changed my mind.”
On Monday evening, Bannon condemned the move.
“After being contacted several months ago and with seven weeks of continual requests for this event, I accepted The New Yorker’s invitation with no thought of an honorarium,” he told CNBC 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.”
The New Yorker Festival, in its 19th year, is known for giving a platform to prominent figures across the political, literary and art worlds. Bannon’s appearance was not the only political event on the schedule, but many critics argued that his politics were dangerous and hateful.
After his work for President Donald Trump, Bannon focused his attention on getting Europe’s far-right parties more power in government positions. During a speech in March at a party congress of France’s far-right National Front in Lille, he told attendees to consider being called racist “a badge of honor.”
Remnick originally told the Times he had “every intention of asking [Bannon] difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation.” Remnick reaffirmed in his statement that the decision to include Bannon on the festival’s lineup was to “put pressure on the views being questioned.”
“It’s obvious no matter how tough the questioning, Bannon is not going to burst into tears and change his view on the world,” Remnick said in his statement. “He believes he is right and his opponents are mere ‘snowflakes.’ The question is whether an interview has value in terms of fact, argument, or even exposure, whether it has value to a reader or an audience.”
Remnick said he ultimately decided that, while he would still interview Bannon for a journalistic piece, a festival was not the best forum for speaking to him. An additional reason for canceling Bannon’s appearance, Remnick said, was that the magazine would have paid him an honorarium, as well as for lodging and travel if Bannon spoke at the event, rather than for an article, which would be done without payment.