Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Barclays and slavery: the Times muddies the issue

[Note: see 2/3/07 update.]

On Sunday, I wrote to the New York Times:
The Sports Business article headlined "What's in a Name? $400 Million" (Sports, 1/19) contained the following passage.

They also said Barclays profited from the slave trade yet is aligned with Ratner, who is marketing his team to African-American fans. A company spokesman said Barclays had not been involved in slavery.

The passage states flatly that that Barclays had no involvement in slavery and thus suggests that the protesters were inventing an issue out of whole cloth.

The issue of how much a company can be blamed for past wrongs is indeed complicated, as the Daily News recently reported.

While Barclays may not have been directly involved in the slave trade, there's evidence that profits from the slave trade were foundational to the bank. A quick search found this next article, and I'm sure you could find more.

That deserves far more nuance than the Times's shorthand, and a clarification or correction is in order.

Thanks for your attention to this.


An evasive response

I got the following reply from Mike Abrams, Sports Enterprise Editor:
Thank you for your e-mail regarding our Sports Business piece on the naming rights for the proposed arena. Our article did not flatly state that Barclays had no involvement in slavery. As you can see below, we explained the view from protesters and had a company spokesman respond:

Several demonstrators protested outside the museum, accusing Barclays of participating in the state's attempt to use eminent domain to condemn property for the project. They also said Barclays profited from the slave trade yet is aligned with Ratner, who is marketing his team to African-American fans. A company spokesman said Barclays had not been involved in slavery.

Because we accurately conveyed what each group said and because we made no further claims ourselves, we see no reason for a clarification or correction. Thanks again.


Trying to make sense of it

But the Times's report has the two parties talking past each other. The protesters said that Barclays was (indirectly) involved in the slave trade. A spokesman said that Barclays was not (directly) involved in slavery.

The Times's unwillingness to challenge or clarify an evasive answer disserves the readers.

[Update]

The Public Editor punts

I sent the above account to the office of the Times Public Editor, Byron Calame, and added:
I'd be interested in hearing your take on the adequacy of the Times's response.

The response was swift, though from Calame's assistant, Joe Plambeck, rather than the Public Editor himself:
I believe that the explanation you received from The Times is adequate.

I didn't realize that the Public Editor deputizes judgment calls.

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