A couple of quick tips if you’re in the book publishing world:
First tip: If you’re a giant New York-based book publisher, try to get under the skin of the most powerful person in the world.
Second tip: If you’re the most powerful person in the world and want to suppress information, do not sue potential authors and publishers who want to write about you.
Case in point: the president.
President Trump and his surrogates have tried twice in the last month to prevent publications of books that are – or will be – critical of him personally and politically. He or his surrogates have specifically targeted tell-all books by the former White House National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and more recently the president’s niece, Mary Trump, who promises to unleash dirt on the president and other members of the family.
Rather than succeed in thwarting unwarranted publicity, these two books – both of which are being published by Simon and Schuster – are now No. 1 and No. 2 on the Amazon bestseller list. On June 26, Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” was No. 1, and Mary Trump’s book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How May Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” was No. 2.
By June 28, they had swapped the top two positions.
Efforts to curtail speech such as these are destined to produce was is known as the “Streisand Effect.”
As a Wikipedia entry has aptly described it, the “Streisand effect” is a “social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet.”
The moniker stems from the iconic singer and actress Barbra Streisand’s efforts to suppress the dissemination of aerial photographs of her residence in Malibu, California in 2003.
Prior to Streisand’s lawsuit for invasion of privacy, the photograph in question had been downloaded just six times from the photographer’s website. After Streisand sued, more than 420,000 people visited the photographer’s site.
Streisand lost the lawsuit and was ordered to pay the photographer’s legal fees, amounting to more than $150,000.
Other attempts to censor speech have met similar fates.
Perhaps the books by Bolton and Mary Trump would not have generated huge interest much beyond Washington Beltway wonks, but the president and some family members undoubtedly propelled the books into national successes.
Simon and Schuster will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Robert D. Lystad is the Executive Director of the non-profit Campaign for Free Speech, based in Washington, D.C.