Culture Friday – Kicked off Amazon

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, February 26th and you’re listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning! I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. It’s time for Culture Friday. Today, censorship by Big Tech. 

It’s not exactly even handed. If you want to buy Adolph Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf on Amazon, you can do that. All it takes is a couple of clicks. The same goes if you’re interested in learning to make bombs. You can buy a book about that. 

Or an academic treatise that justifies pedophilia. You can also buy that on Amazon.

But one book you can’t buy from the retail giant or any of its subsidiaries is Ryan T. Anderson’s 2018 best-seller, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. That’s because Amazon has removed the book from its main retail site, as well as its audiobook platform, Audible, and its used book company, Abe Books. You can’t even buy it from third party sellers on the site.

BASHAM: Amazon’s move comes as Anderson has been urging Congress to vote no on the Equality Act. That’s a bill that would make gender identity a protected class under Civil Rights legislation. 

But this isn’t the first time the mega-retailer has started removing books that fall afoul of LGBT orthodoxy. 

In July 2019, it began removing books that offer advice on dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction, as well as books from ex-gay authors. Last June, it blocked publisher Regnery from purchasing ads for Abigail Shrier’s book, Irreversible Damage. And in August, after 3½ years with no incident, it stopped selling the book Health Hazards of Homosexuality.

Joining us now to talk about this is the author of When Harry Became Sally and President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Ryan Anderson.

So, Ryan, you’re one of the most prominent critics of the Equality Act. Do you feel like Amazon’s timing was strategic?

RYAN ANDERSON, GUEST: So we’ve heard nothing in response from Amazon. So we really don’t know what prompted this. It happened, you know, a day after the third year anniversary. It’s disappeared from Amazon, and from the Kindle Store, from the audible store, from ABE Books. So it seems that this was not a technical glitch, because it disappeared, you know, everywhere within like the Amazon conglomerate. You can’t get the book, you can’t get the audiobook. So people are like, well, maybe it’s just out of stock, like they ran out of physical, you can’t get used copies, you can’t get the hardback, you can’t get the paperback.

And we have no idea why. They didn’t reach out to me, they didn’t reach out to the publisher or the distributor, the publisher has reached out to Amazon asking, you know what’s going on, and they haven’t heard back. And obviously, this is a concern, not just you know, for my book, my book is three years old, and it’s already sold well. And now it’s selling, it’s selling great again, because everyone else is going to get it at Barnes and Noble and Walmart and directly from the publisher. 

But Amazon has, I think, an 83% market share of book sales in the United States. And if they can now pressure publishers into not publishing controversial books, right? This has a stifling effect on the entire market of book writing, and book publishing, and then book buying. So it impacts authors, it impacts readers. And think about this, this was after, you know, Amazon has put out of business, lots of mom and pop bookstores and independent booksellers. 

You know, Amazon created a wonderful company, right? It’s really convenient to use, but in the process, they put out of business a lot of brick and mortar stores. And now they might be using their market dominance to actually, you know, distort the market here.

BASHAM: I’ve heard some prominent Christians argue that, as much as we may not like it, Big Tech is made up of private companies that can do what they like. For example, a recent paper from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention took this position. What are your thoughts on that?

ANDERSON: That it’s not true. And it’s never been true. We’ve never said that, you know, private businesses can do anything that they liked, right? And the most obvious examples, and they’re not, obviously morally equivalent, but if Amazon said, you know, we’re not gonna be selling books by authors of a certain race, or we’re not going to be selling books to, you know, buyers of a certain religion, we would all say no, private businesses can’t do that, right? 

In the same way that if the electric company said, you know, we don’t provide electricity to conservative homes any longer. So we all realize that economic liberties have limits. And now historically, when we had robust competition, if you know, one local bookstore said, Look, we’re not going to sell this conservative book. But we had a lot of other independent bookstores that were carrying the book, we could say, leave it to the market. When you have companies that grow so large, and that exercise so much power, I think it’s a little naive for people to say, just leave it to private businesses. Big government can be a threat to our liberty and to our flourishing so too can big business, particularly big tech. And I think more and more conservatives are now realizing that.

BASHAM: Okay, but to play the role of the prosecution a bit further, one specific challenge I’ve heard is that if Christian baker Jack Phillips can’t be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding, Amazon can’t be forced to sell Ryan Anderson’s book…

ANDERSON: One of the books that they’re still selling is something that I’ve written, you know, precisely on this, which is, you know, how do we think about the tension between non discrimination laws and then free exercise of religion or freedom of speech. All right, and so is Amazon, you know, asserting a religious claim that it violates their religious beliefs to sell my book, right. And if that’s the case, let’s hear it right. And part of religious liberty too is that it has limits and we want to see, you know, what’s Amazon’s argument. 

Now maybe they’re saying it’s a free speech claim, like we only sell books that we agree with. But again, when you’re looking at all the other books that Amazon sells, it’s hard to see that. You know, in Jack Phillip’s case, he says, look, I only make custom order cakes that support messages and events that I do agree with, right? So he wouldn’t do anti-American cakes. He wouldn’t do a happy divorce cake, someone wanted a cake that was cut in half to celebrate a divorce, he wouldn’t do cakes with lewd images, he wouldn’t do cakes with alcohol because he was a non-drinking Christian. So he ran his entire business in keeping with a certain moral vision.

If Amazon wants to say that’s the type of business they are, and let us know about it, because it doesn’t seem like that’s what they’ve been doing. So that’s one set of arguments that distinguishes these two cases. Another set of arguments is that if Jack Phillips had a policy of we don’t serve gay people, or we just you know, we won’t even sell cupcakes and brownies, if you identify as gay, I don’t think you would have seen any conservative defending him. Right? The argument wasn’t that it’s a private business, he can do what he wants. The argument was that there’s an important distinction between saying I don’t serve gay people, and I don’t celebrate weddings that I don’t believe are actually marital. Okay. And and, you know, a lot of people on the left refused to acknowledge that distinction. 

But it’s a really important distinction between saying, you know, because of who you are, I won’t serve you. And then saying, because of who I am and what I believe about marriage, I can’t celebrate an event that I believe isn’t really a marriage, maybe for the same reason that people, you know, might not be comfortable celebrating polygamous marriages or something like that. It’s not because of the identity of the, you know, prospective spouse, it’s because of the beliefs of the business owner. 

And so again, like if Amazon wants to say, look, we have sincerely held beliefs about transgender issues, and we don’t sell books that violate our sincerely held beliefs like, okay, just let us know, because the way that they’ve marketed themselves to customers is that look, we sell all books. Like we don’t only sell books that we agree with, we want to be the place where you can read anything that’s worth reading.

BASHAM: And I have to tell you, I did try to reach out to Amazon and ask some of these questions. They didn’t respond. In fact, they don’t seem to be responding to anyone. Not even Florida Senator Marco Rubio who said he asked Amazon for an explanation and so far they haven’t responded.

But I did see one story where the reporter said Amazon replied only with a link to its guidelines on hate speech. So let’s talk about the content of your book because that seems to suggest that they’re classifying it as hate speech.

ANDERSON: I mean, so if they are what took three years to discover this, right? I mean, the book has been available. It’s been a bestseller, at Amazon. And at the Washington Post. It’s been three years now. It’s sold tens of thousands of copies through Amazon. And so the timing of this suspicious, right, the timing of it being the very week when the House of Representatives is going to ram through the Equality Act. 

But I so that’s just one is that you know, what took so long if it really is hate speech, but then to anyone who has read the book will tell you that even if they disagree with the book, that this is like a model of what someone of my perspective on the issues should write, right? It has, I don’t know 30 or 40 pages of footnotes, at the end of the book. It cites all the relevant scholarly sources. It was endorsed by the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital by a professor of neuroscience at Boston University by a professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah by a former professor of psychology at NYU, by a medical ethicist at Columbia’s med school. I mean, this isn’t some like fringe bomb throwing, red meat, name calling book. This is about as mainstream as you can come from someone who holds the positions that I hold, right and so it seems like what really is happening here is that it doesn’t matter you know, how charitably you say it, or how rigorously, you argue it. That it’s simply if you have the opinion that I have, and that, you know, I would imagine that, you know, most of our readers, most of our listeners, it wouldn’t matter how charitably and how rigorously you presented it, Amazon, if that is the case, that they’re now classifying it as a form of hate speech, it’s about the position that Orthodox Christianity holds on this issue, not about the way that we say it.

BASHAM: Well, you know, let’s talk about do you feel like they are testing the waters here, we’re just gonna do this, see what the response is, and see how long we can hold out?

ANDERSON: You know, that’s a possibility that, you know, the the the thought here is, we no longer have to worry about Trump, or Attorney General Barr, or Senator Josh Hawley, you know, doing something in response, because, you know, all throughout the Trump years, there were various hearings on Capitol Hill, and the DOJ filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And so you know, there were there, there were real fears from big tech, that if they, you know, engaged in too much blatant censorship, there might be legal ramifications. You know, maybe now they’re saying, look, there’s a new sheriff in town, let’s see what we can get away with. Again, I don’t know because no one from Amazon has said a word about this to me or to the publisher.

BASHAM: Well, as far as tactics, in the last two days, Target has also removed two other scholarly books critical of the transgender movement from its shelves. Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage and Debra Soh’s The End of Gender. So we seem to be watching an intellectual purge happening in real time.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like Christians have many options for pushing back besides exercising the power of the purse and the press. Is that enough?

ANDERSON: I do think that in the short run, it’s going to have to be enough consumers complain about this, and, you know, perhaps cancel Amazon Prime accounts, you know, start shopping at Barnes and Noble, and at Target and Netbooks pavilion at Walmart, and that you end direct from the publisher, and you can get directly at encounter books that calm right. It may very well be that economic pressure in the short run is what forces Amazon to change its policy here. 

But in the long run, I think conservatives are going to have to think about what are the limits of economic liberties? When it comes to big tech, that, you know, we have various limits for mom and pop stores, right? They have all sorts of rules and regulations that they have to comply with to be on Main Street, we also are going to have to think about what are the rules and regulations that cyber, big business is gonna have to comply with to be on kind of the cyber streets. And just saying it’s a private business, they can do whatever they want, really doesn’t address those questions at all.

BASHAM: Well, last question, then, for you and the publisher, what’s your next move?

ANDERSON: Right now. We’re just doing as much as we can, talking to the press, you know, getting the word out so that people can know what’s going on. I mean, the rest of the day goes on. Right. And, you know, I don’t want the delisting of the book and Amazon to distract me from all the other important issues that we have to be working on because the Biden people aren’t slowing down. And they’re going to be particularly bad on issues of the right to life, of issues of religious liberty issues, of our embodiments as male and female. And, you know, part of my mission, you know, as President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center is to hold them accountable. Okay, and to defend, you know, the good where and when we can.

BASHAM: Ryan Anderson is President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of the book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.

Thanks so much, Ryan.

ANDERSON: Alright, thank you.

(Photo/via Facebook; Cover/Encounter Books)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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