A range of book industry organizations, including the ABA and the Authors Guild, have issued public condemnations of President Trump’s attempt to block Henry Holt’s publication of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.
The book has been dominating national headlines since Tuesday, when comments it featured by some of the president’s inner circle were leaked in press reports. Holt announced on Thursday that it was pushing up the book’s publication from January 9 to January 5 due to the widespread coverage of the book.
But Holt is not merely juggling intense demand for the tell-all; it’s also dealing with a looming legal threat. Quotes that Steve Bannon gave in the book—specifically one in which he called a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians, during the 2016 campaign, “unpatriotic” and “treasonous”—initially resulted in a statement from the White House slamming the president’s former chief advisor. As the week wore on, though, the Oval Office became more aggressive.
Holt confirmed on Thursday that it had received a cease and desist letter from attorney Charles Harder on behalf of President Trump, claiming the book is libelous and the publisher needs to halt publication of the title. Holt, in response to the letter, issued this statement: “We see Fire and Fury as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the book.”
Holt’s stance has now been applauded by the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. All of the organizations have come forward to condemn the White House’s attempt to kill the book.
“The American people have a First Amendment right to read Fire and Fury and other works that contribute to an important public debate, even when they contain statements critical of the president.It is up to the courts to determine if the statements are libelous after they are published,” said NCAC executive director Chris Finan. “The letter is clearly intended to intimidate Wolff and Henry Holt into withholding information that is embarrassing to the president and his family.”
ABA CEO Oren Teicher called the threat of legal action “an appalling abuse of executive power.” He added: “We believe this sort of attempted prior restraint sets a dangerous precedent, and, if successful, would represent a chilling effect on free speech.”
Publishing attorney Jonathan Kirsch also focused on the issue of the Trump seeking to use the power of his office to prohibit publication of the book, calling it a clear case of prior restraint. He noted that “prior restraint of speech by the courts is forbidden except under very narrow and strictly enforced circumstances that do not apply here. Trump has no plausible case for prior restraint here.
In its response to Trump’s action, the Authors Guild cited the president’s well-documented practice of suing, or threatening to sue, writers over articles and books critical of him. “It is one thing for a private citizen to use libel laws to quash speech. It is unheard of for a sitting president to do so,” the Guild said in a statement.
Guild president James Gleick further observed: “This isn’t a country where we quash books that the leader finds unpleasant. That’s what tyrants do, not American presidents.”