I’ve written here about settlement agreements and non-disparagement clauses.
In today’s New York Times, a long-time writer and editor, Will Blythe, writes about his reaction when asked to sign a non-disparagement agreement:
Succinctly and powerfully, he describes any writer’s natural repulsion at being asked to sign such a thing:
So if nondisparagement agreements are downright ordinary and at the same time difficult to enforce, why not sign and take the severance?
Because as quaint as this may seem, giving up the right to speak and write freely, even if that means speaking or writing negatively, strikes me as the unholiest of deals for a writer and an editor to accept. Though such clauses don’t technically violate the First Amendment — I’d be explicitly agreeing to forfeit my right to speak freely if I signed clause No. 12 — such a contract has a paralyzing effect on the dissemination of the truth, with all of truth’s caustically cleansing powers. To disparage is but one tool in a writer’s kit, but it’s an essential one. That a company would offer money for my silence, which is what this boils down to — well, I’ve seen many a mob movie about exactly that exchange.
It’s not that I necessarily want to disparage, but I want the freedom to do so, to be able to criticize, to attack, to carp, to excoriate, if need be. I want to tell the truth, even if it isn’t pretty.
That’s why I won’t sign clause No. 12. Byliner can keep the money. I’ll keep my self-respect.
A terrific statement.