How Getting Canceled on Social Media Can Derail a Book Deal

Regnery, the conservative publisher that signed Mr. Hawley after Simon & Schuster dropped his book, also has a morals clause — what Thomas Spence, its president and publisher, described as the “infamous 5F of our contract.” Regnery will not take it out.

“This is the one thing in our contract that I have virtually no discretion over,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s got to be in there.” The morals clause in Mr. Hawley’s new contract was not a contentious issue, Mr. Spence added.

A representative for Mr. Hawley did not respond to requests for comment.

Other businesses, particularly in media, entertainment and sports, have long used morals clauses. Stuart Brotman, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who has studied these clauses, said they were in old Hollywood movie contracts — he said a morals clause was what allowed Paramount Pictures to drop the comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle during the silent film era, after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman and accidentally killing her. He was eventually found not guilty. In the 1970s, the actor Wayne Rogers left the show “M*A*S*H” because he didn’t want to sign a morals clause.

In the book world, executives say these clauses were a part of Christian publishing agreements before they became fixtures in mainstream deals. The televangelist Benny Hinn was dropped by his publisher, Strang Communications, for violating its “moral turpitude provision” in 2010, after he was caught in a relationship with another minister before his divorce was finalized.

Agents and executives say high-profile implosions, like that of the celebrity chef Paula Deen in 2013, prompted mainstream publishers to protect themselves. Ms. Deen admitted in a legal deposition that she had previously used racist language and allowed racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and sexist jokes in one of her restaurants, and in the span of about a week, companies including Sears, Kmart, the Food Network and Walmart said they were suspending or cutting ties with her. Her publisher, Ballantine Books, canceled a five-book contract.

The clauses began proliferating more quickly after the #MeToo movement revealed allegations of misconduct against many public figures, including Mark Halperin, a journalist and author whose book contract was canceled by Penguin Random House in 2017 under its conduct clause.

Today, Penguin Random House requires conduct clauses in all its contracts — that way, according to the company, the publisher isn’t implying that it trusts author A but not author B. Even some smaller publishing houses, like Abrams, demand them, but the clauses are unusual among independent publishers, according to Dan Simon, a founder of the Independent Publishers Caucus.

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