Dozens of Hachette Book Group employees left work Thursday afternoon, protesting the company's decision, which it announced earlier in the week, to publish an autobiography by Woody Allen.
The publisher said Monday that Allen’s book, titled “Apropos of Nothing,” would come out under its Grand Central imprint on April 7th. It described the book as “a comprehensive account of his life, both personal and professional,” that would cover “his relationship with family, friends and the loves of his life.”
But the announcement drew criticism because of the allegations that Allen molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. He has denied the accusations and wasn’t charged after two investigations decades ago. A Hachette spokeswoman said in an email Thursday evening: “We respect and understand the perspective of our employees who have decided to express their concern over the publication of this book. We will engage our staff in a fuller discussion about this at the earliest opportunity.”
An employee at Hachette who participated in the walkout estimated that more than 100 protesters eventually gathered in Rockefeller Plaza, outside the publisher's New York offices. The employee said that while the protesters were outside, others at Hachette met with Michael Pietsch, the company's chief executive, to make three demands of him: to cancel the publication of Allen's book; to publicly apologise; and to recognise that Hachette employees have the ability to speak up about books they disagree with without fear of reprisal.
Juliana Horbachevsky, a publicity manager at Hachette, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but an email automatically sent in response from her account included this statement: "This afternoon, the staff of Little, Brown and Company will be walking out of the Hachette New York offices in protest of Woody Allen's forthcoming memoir. We stand with Ronan and Dylan Farrow and survivors of sexual assault."
One of the most vocal critics of the book deal was Allen's son and Farrow's brother Ronan Farrow, whose bestselling book "Catch and Kill" was published last year by Little, Brown, a Hachette imprint. On Wednesday, he slammed Hachette's decision to publish Allen's book and said he would no longer work with the publisher. (Little, Brown has been without a top editor since Reagan Arthur was named publisher of Alfred A. Knopf in January.)
In an email exchange, obtained by The New York Times, Farrow, whose reporting on accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men helped touch off the #MeToo movement, harshly criticised Hachette, calling its decision to publish Allen's memoir a betrayal. "Your policy of editorial independence among your imprints does not relieve you of your moral and professional obligations as the publisher of 'Catch and Kill, ' and as the leader of a company being asked to assist in efforts by abusive men to whitewash their crimes," Farrow wrote in an email to Michael Pietsch. "As you and I worked on 'Catch and Kill' – a book in part about the damage Woody Allen did to my family – you were secretly planning to publish a book by the person who committed those acts of sexual abuse," Farrow added. "Obviously I can't in good conscience work with you any more," he wrote at the end of his message. "Imagine this were your sister."
Pietsch, in an interview Tuesday, defended the decision to publish Allen’s book. He said he had called Farrow on Monday after hearing from the author’s agent that he was unhappy about the publication. And he reiterated what he said he had told Farrow: that a basic principle of publishing was that its divisions do not interfere editorially with each other. “We do not allow anyone’s publishing program to interfere with anyone else’s,” he said, noting that Hachette publishes “thousands of books” a year. “Each book has its own mission,” he said. “Our job as a publisher is to help the author achieve what they have set out to do in the creation of their book.” Asked about the mission of Allen’s book, he paused. “Grand Central publishing believes strongly that there’s a large audience that wants to hear the story of Woody Allen’s life as told by Woody Allen himself,” he said. “That’s what they’ve chosen to publish.” Farrow declined to comment on his conversations with Pietsch or the publication of Allen’s book.
The free-speech nonprofit PEN America defended the Hachette workers' right to protest, as well as the company's right to publish the book. "We believe everyone – including authors and publishing employees – has the right to express their opinions and raise their voices in protest. That said, we also are concerned about the trend of pressuring the withdrawal of books from publication and circulation, depriving readers of the chance to make their own judgments and disincentivising publishers from taking on contentious topics," Suzanne Nossel, its chief executive, said in a statement. "While we don't take a position on the editorial judgments in question, we think that once a book is slated for publication, it should not be withdrawn just because it's controversial or gives rise to vociferous objections."
To date, no publisher is signed for a UK release of Allen's book.
– New York Times