Who are the groups subjected to the most public vitriol for their published work?

Judith Shulevitz at the Times points out that publishers are starting to add morality clauses to their contracts.

This past year, regular contributors to Condé Nast magazines started spotting a new paragraph in their yearly contracts. It’s a doozy. If, in the company’s “sole judgment,” the clause states, the writer “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” Condé Nast can terminate the agreement. In other words, a writer need not have done anything wrong; she need only become scandalous. In the age of the Twitter mob, that could mean simply writing or saying something that offends some group of strident tweeters.

Here’s one problem with that: not all strident tweeters are reasonable. We wouldn’t want Adrian Harrop having a veto over what gets published, for instance.

Jeannie Suk Gersen, a Harvard Law School professor who writes regularly for The New Yorker, a Condé Nast magazine, read the small print, too, and thought: “No way. I’m not signing that.” Ms. Gersen, an expert in the laws regulating sexuality, often takes stands that may offend the magazine’s liberal readers, as when she defended Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s rollback of Obama-era rules on campus sexual-assault accusations. When I called Ms. Gersen in November, she said, “No person who is engaged in creative expressive activity should be signing one of these.”

It’s not that a company should have to keep on staff a murderer or rapist, she added. But when the trigger for termination could be a Twitter storm or a letter-writing campaign, she said, “I think it would have a very significant chilling effect.”

Twitter being what it is. Would we want Jordan Peterson shutting us down? He’s suing those university inquisitors who said hostile things about him in their meeting with Lindsay Shepherd, after all.

Masha Gessen, another New Yorker writer, also said she wouldn’t sign her new contract, at least not as it was originally worded. Ms. Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who won the 2017 National Book Award for “The Future Is History,” about the return of totalitarianism in post-Communist Russia, has spent her career challenging prevailing nostrums.

Last year, as prominent men fell like bowling pins after being accused of sexual misconduct, Ms. Gessen published columns on the New Yorker website describing the #MeToo movement as an out-of-control “moral panic” bent on policing sexual behavior by mob justice. Needless to say, many readers did not agree.

“I’m extremely uncomfortable with it,” Ms. Gessen said about the contract, “because I have in the past been vilified on social media.” Having once been fired from a job as the director of Radio Liberty in Russia after what she called a disinformation campaign, she added, “I know what it’s like to lose institutional support when you most need it.”

It’s not as if disinformation campaigns are unknown to Twitter and Facebook.

Over the past four years, I’ve published articles criticizing the concept of safe spaces and deploring the lack of due process in campus rape hearings. I’ve been called transphobic for an essay I wrote in 2016 about the tension between transgender rights and the right to privacy, and I’m still being called that. If I’d had a book contract with a morality clause when I wrote those, I might have thought twice before indulging my fondness for picking fights.

It’s remarkably easy to get called (and labeled and forever convicted as) transphobic.

After our conversation, Ms. Gersen sent me an email pointing out a possible unintended consequence of the Condé Nast clause. Who are the groups subjected to the most public vitriol for their published work, she asked? Who is most viciously trolled? Women and members of minorities. “That is one of the realities of publishing while a woman or minority in this age,” she wrote. “The clause is perversely posing more career risk to women and minorities than to white males.”

Funny how that works.

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