I may not be a stable genius, but I know enough history to know an unpopular figure with a large counter-following is not going to reduce interest in a book or media outlet by condemning it. Great bit of showmanship for the 20% or so who actually enjoy the ‘burn it down’ approach to governing, but sending cease-and-desist letters trying to bar distribution of a book or identifying a media outlet / show / individual as the pinnacle of “fake news” is counter-productive. As evidenced by the publisher moving up the release date to hit shelves during the invented controversy.
Random curiosity makes people want to experience forbidden things. I sat in a radio station that had a little box with a button. Taped to the box was a sign that said “DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON”. Now there was a fairly large board in the studio, along with turntables, DAT players, and CD players. There were probably a good hundred buttons in that studio. I pressed a good number of them to play a specific song or switch to a specific input, but I was absolutely never inclined to randomly hit any of those buttons. Except the one with a sign. Every time I was in that studio, I had to resist the temptation to hit THAT button. Morbid curiosity – it quite evidently does something bad, but how bad? Personally, I just asked the station manager what the button did – it controlled the transmission to the tower. Turn it off, the station goes off the air. (Perfectly valid question: why in the hell is that button located in the studio? No one knew, but I assume there had to be some mechanism to drop broadcast in an emergency. Otherwise why wouldn’t the button be locked in the manager’s office?) Why not put a sign that says why the button needs to be left alone? Everyone in the studio has an interest in the station being on air, and maybe someone would think it a funny joke to turn the broadcast off at the end of their shift so the next guy is silent … but that’s an HR problem to me (i.e. cancel the miscreant’s show). I wouldn’t have been the least bit tempted to hit the button that said “BUTTON NEEDS TO REMAIN ON FOR STATION TO BROADCAST”.
In trying to explain my belief to the station manager, I cited Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. It wasn’t a bad book. Midnight’s Children was well received, and I had read it because it appeared on a list of Man Booker Prize for Fiction winning novels. Same reason I read Something to Answer For and Saville. Wasn’t interested enough in the author that I followed his works, and this was before database driven promotions where I could just supply my e-mail address and be notified whenever an author hosts an event or publishes a new book. There were a finite list of authors I found interesting enough to look for at the local book store. Until the uproar. Book burnings in the UK, although that was a little Fahrenheit 451 to me it wasn’t enough to prompt me to buy the book. Then came riots in Pakistan. And Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa. I absolutely had to know what was so sacrilegious that it was worth rioting and killing a man over. The book, and its author, became generally recognizable based on the objection to his book (and somewhat who was objecting).
Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is another example of popularizing a work through objection. Cardinal Bertone said not to buy the book. Father Cantalamessa, at an Easter service in St Peter’s basilica no less, spoke indirectly about the book “manipulat[ing] the figure of Christ under the cover of imaginary new discoveries”. Catholic groups organized boycotts of the movie. Now the movie itself was already a big-budget affair that would have been promoted by the studio … but how many non-Catholics had their interest piqued by the fact Catholics considered the story to be rotten food for the soul? When the Vatican banned Angels & Demons from entering the Holy See and any church in Rome, I wanted to see what made that book worse than Da Vinci Code.
So while I am looking forward to Trump’s Fake News Awards on Monday – especially as an exercise in trying to limit freedom of the press – I essentially consider the award ‘losers’ to be paragons of forthright reporting. Not exactly what Trump was going for.