Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, will no longer appear as a headliner at this year’s New Yorker Festival, David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, announced in an email to the magazine’s staff on Monday evening.
The announcement followed several scathing rebukes and high-profile dropouts after the festival’s lineup, with Mr. Bannon featured, was announced. Within 30 minutes of one another, John Mulaney, Judd Apatow, Jack Antonoff and Jim Carrey said on social media that they would be pulling out of scheduled events at the festival. Right around the time when Mr. Remnick announced the cancellation of Mr. Bannon’s participation, Patton Oswalt did the same.
In Mr. Remnick’s email to his staff, he said that even New Yorker staff members had expressed discomfort at the decision to invite Mr. Bannon to be interviewed at the festival.
“The reaction on social media was critical and a lot of the dismay and anger was directed at me and my decision to engage him,” Mr. Remnick’s note said. “Some members of the staff, too, reached out to say that they objected to the invitation, particularly the forum of the festival.”
He added, “I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns.”
Mr. Bannon lashed out at Mr. Remnick, calling him “gutless” for rescinding the invitation.
“The reason for my acceptance was simple: I would be facing one of the most fearless journalists of his generation,” Mr. Bannon said in a statement to The New York Times. “In what I would call a defining moment, David Remnick showed he was gutless when confronted by the howling online mob.”
Mr. Bannon, who is in Venice for the screening of a new documentary about him by Errol Morris, said that Mr. Remnick called him on Monday to say he could no longer accommodate him at the festival.
It was a swift and stunning turnabout for the festival, which is to take place in New York from Oct. 5 to 7.
Mr. Bannon once called his former website, Breitbart, a “platform for the alt-right” and is frequently referred to as a white nationalist by his large swath of critics. But in an earlier phone interview with The New York Times, Mr. Remnick said the festival was not intended to be a friendly forum for Mr. Bannon.
“I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation,” Mr. Remnick said.
“The audience itself, by its presence, puts a certain pressure on a conversation that an interview alone doesn’t do,” he added. “You can’t jump on and off the record.”
But the prospect of the festival’s collapse became too much, and Mr. Remnick quickly backtracked.
“I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues — and I’ve reconsidered,” Mr. Remnick wrote to his staff. “I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this. Our writers have interviewed Steve Bannon for The New Yorker before, and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.”
Correspondence from The New Yorker to Mr. Bannon, which was obtained by The Times, shows that the talk had been planned for two months.
Mr. Bannon said Monday that he and Mr. Remnick had been trying to work out a time to sit down for one of the magazine’s podcasts.
On July 2, a producer working with the magazine emailed Mr. Bannon to say that because they had not yet made something work, they would like instead to host him at The New Yorker Festival in October.
“I get the sense you’re still interested in a conversation with David. So, how about we make an event of it?” the email to Mr. Bannon said.
Attached was a scanned copy of a formal letter of invitation signed by Mr. Remnick saying that the magazine would accommodate any travel needs and pay an unspecified honorarium. (Mr. Bannon said Monday that he accepted without giving any thought to the fee.)
“We would be honored to have you,” Mr. Remnick’s letter concluded.
Reaction to news of Mr. Bannon’s invitation on Monday was swift.
Mr. Mulaney, who was set to be interviewed by Susan Morrison, the articles editor of The New Yorker, was among the first to drop out. He mocked Mr. Bannon last year while hosting the Independent Spirit Awards, referring to him as an anti-Semite.
In a post on Twitter, Mr. Mulaney said: “I’m out. I genuinely support public intellectual debate, and have paid to see people speak with whom I strongly disagree. But this isn’t James Baldwin vs William F Buckley.”
He was followed soon after by Mr. Antonoff, the frontman of the band Bleachers, who said on Twitter, “respectfully that’s a full no for me and normalization of white supremacy.”
Mr. Carrey also chimed in, saying that a festival featuring Mr. Bannon and him “could never happen.” Bo Burnham, Mr. Oswalt and Mr. Apatow all expressed similar sentiments.
The backlash was not limited to would-be festival attendees. The writer Roxane Gay announced that she would no longer be writing an in-progress essay that had been commissioned by the magazine.
The disinvitation of Mr. Bannon comes at a time when conservatives have frequently complained of being victims of free speech suppression, especially at college campuses, where several high-profile speakers have been targeted for protests.
Last year, several dozen Middlebury College students were disciplined for shouting down the conservative author Charles Murray, who is best known for the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” in which he connected socioeconomic status with race and intelligence.
Also last spring, the University of California, Berkeley, canceled a speech by the conservative activist Ann Coulter. Milo Yiannopoulos was recently disinvited from Politicon, the political convention, and Ben Shapiro has frequently found himself in the midst of the debates surrounding free speech.
However, a recent project from Georgetown University’s Free Speech Project suggested a more complicated picture. It said incidents that could be classified as suppression seem to spread across the ideological spectrum and “most of the incidents where presumptively conservative speech has been interrupted or squelched in the last two or three years seem to involve the same few speakers.”
Gabe Cohn contributed reporting.