The Economist shocked the Internet yesterday by publishing a book review about American slave trade, accusing the author for being biased towards the slaves. After the backlash, the magazine withdrew the review and issued an apology.
The Economist reviewed Edward Baptist's "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism," criticizing it for focusing on how hard slaves had it during slavery. The book review suggested that the slaves' account of unfair treatment is unreliable.
"Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their "hands" ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery, the review says. "Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy."
In another horrible editorial choice, the review was published alongside an image of Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey in "12 Years A Slave" in a scene where she was brutally beaten over a bar of soap she borrowed to clean herself.
Those who read the review took to Twitter to criticize the offensive review using the hashtag #economistbookreview. This caused The Economist to remove the review, issuing the following statement, "Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil."
This is not the first time The Economist put the blame on the wrong party. In the 19th century, the magazine blamed Irish peasants for starving themselves during the Irish potato famine. The magazine wrote,"
... the people, rapidly increasing, have been reduced, by acts for which they are chiefly to blame, to a sole reliance on the precarious crop of potatoes. It would be unjust to Ireland - it would be a neglect of a great duty which is imposed on us at this time - if we did not point to this calamity, assuming as it does this aggravated form, as in a great measure the natural result of that crime which has precluded the people from other available resources."
In both of these cases, The Economist was quick to blame those who are suffering. At least today the magazine was able to acknowledge the "widespread criticism." But one still has to wonder how this review got published in the first place.