The words Milo and provocateur always seem to go hand in hand. As an openly gay and unapologetically politically incorrect conservative, British media personality Milo Yiannopoulos has seen his share of controversy – indeed, it seems to fuel him. However, Milo recently dropped out of site following accusations of pedophilia after he seemingly defended relationships between older men and young boys. This caused, Mr. Yiannopoulos to resign from Breitbart News, loose a book deal, and now it seems the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metro stations don’t want to advertise his new book.
The conservative firebrand has vehemently denied the pedophilia allegations and has of late been working to win back supporters. He’s now arguing that Metro’s decision to remove his ads is unconstitutional. It’s always a shame when Americans – individuals, companies, or government agencies – attempt to censor the speech of others. But is this unconstitutional? Well, not really.
Publishing giant Simon & Schuster initially agreed to publish Milo’s book, Dangerous, and offered a $255,000 advance. According to Yiannopoulos, the publisher told him that the book was great. However, after the collective outcry of the celebrity left, Simon & Schuster informed Mr. Yiannopoulos that his manuscript was unacceptable and canceled the deal. They paid him $80,000 of the advance, and Milo is currently suing them for $10 Million. Fox News reports:
“When S&S told my agent they were dumping the book I was shocked,” Yiannopoulos told Fox News via email. “The termination letter said the manuscript was no good — but as recently as one day earlier, in calls, emails and texts, they’d told me how great it was! I knew there was more to it. I wasn’t in a position to fight them then, but I am now. They breached the contract, so they have to pay up.”
Mr. Yiannopoulos self-published his book on July 4, and it immediately shot to the top bestseller and top new release positions for Amazon.com. According to his public relations firm, the 100,000 copies initially sent to Amazon sold out on the first day. Simon & Schuster might have dropped Milo, but they did not silence him.
Despite Amazon’s refusal to cave to the demands of the outraged left, the WMATA followed in the publisher’s footsteps and removed ads for the book from their Metro stations. According to The Washingtonian, Milo Yiannopoulos called this unconstitutional:
Milo Yiannopoulous in a press conference, February 21, 2017.
Yiannopoulos says he plans to push back on Metro’s decision with his ads. “We were not contacted by the DC [W]MATA or given an opportunity to speak with anyone before our ads began to be pulled down,” he writes. “We believe that the removal of our billboards constitutes unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by a government regulator in violation of the First Amendment and are preparing our response now.”
WMATA seems to have ignored allegations that they caved to the celebrity outrage and claimed that the book ads violated their terms. They don’t allow political or issue-oriented ads or that are intended to influence public policy. Mr. Yiannopoulos pointed out that the billboards only showed his face, the title of his book, and a blurb describing him as “the most dangerous man on the internet.” “We didn’t have anything to say about issues or policy, unless you consider my face to be a political statement,” Mr. Yiannopoulos wrote to The Washingtonian. “So I have a simple question for the D.C. Metro. Which advertisements do not break those policies? Is my face a hate crime?”
Milo Yiannopoulos has every right to be disappointed in the company that dropped his book and the government agency that removed his ads. However, neither is explicitly forbidden by the First Amendment. A better look at the wording of the First Amendment should clarify the issue:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Most likely understand that this refers only to the government and not to private individuals or companies. We Americans value our freedom of expression and resist – sometimes violently – attempts to silence us. However much we may want the First Amendment to apply, however, if we try to “reinterpret” the law so that it better suits us – or just ignore it completely when it doesn’t – then we’re no better than those who would reinterpret it or ignore it to silence opposing views.
Just as Trump supporters across the nation cheered when CNN fired Kathy Griffin after the Trump “headshot,” we must respect Simon & Schuster’s right to refuse to publish Milo’s book. These companies are not government entities and were never to be governed by the U.S. Constitution. If the publisher did violate their contract – and it seems unlikely that the author would have willingly let them off the hook – then they are liable to him for breaking the contract. Indeed, as his self-published book has done so well, the publishing giant might have even done him a favor by bringing more attention to his book and opening themselves up for such a substantial lawsuit.
While it’s tempting to say that the WMATA is guilty of unconstitutional actions, even that isn’t supported by the wording of the First Amendment. According to the exact wording, the First Amendment only binds Congress – not any other government body at any level. Perhaps the First Amendment should apply to all levels of government. Perhaps an argument can be made that the Framers intended that it would – despite the glaring omission that would require on their part.
Milo Yiannopoulos has been mistreated – and he might do well in court on both accounts – but no Constitutional rights have actually been violated. If any state made a law that banned his book entirely, perhaps a case could be made to the Supreme Court. However, this mistreatment does not seem to have significantly damaged either his reputation or his book sales. If anything, it’s only drawn more attention to him and surrounded him with more controversy – more fuel for the fires of his celebrity.