Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently emerged victorious when Barron’s, the test prep publisher, apologized for a diagram in its AP European History book that paired Justice Thomas with the Ku Klux Klan and attempted to smear him as “reactionary and/or fascist.”
After I broke the story last month, the Twittersphere exploded and the Daily Caller picked up the story. Eventually, a couple of weeks after my report, Barron’s responded with this sniveling, mealymouthed mea culpa:
It has been brought to our attention that Barron’s AP European History, 7th Edition by Seth Roberts and James Eder contains erroneous information that casts aspersions on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In an attempt to draw a comparison between current-day politics in the U.S. and the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, the diagram on page 168 equates Clarence Thomas with the KKK, while labeling him as a “reactionary and/or fascist.” This was an unintentional error on the part of the authors and Barron’s for which we sincerely apologize. By way of an explanation, in the course of formatting the book, the diagram was condensed to fit on a single page. In doing so, some information was dropped and other information was combined, which changed the original meaning of the diagram. . . .
It was never our intention to malign Justice Thomas, nor to become embroiled in the right vs. left politics of the day.
Public outrage led to condemnation of the book on Amazon.com via dozens of one-star reviews. Many of the unfavorable reviews generated a comment posted by “Seth,” purportedly none other than Seth Roberts, the lead author of the offending publication:
As the author, I would like to apologize for the political spectrum chart that appears on page 168 of the 7th edition of my book, Barron’s AP European History. I would also like to thank those who brought it to Barron’s attention, as we are always trying to find ways to improve our books. Barron’s has informed me that the entire inventory of current books containing this chart is being destroyed, and all subsequent editions of the book will have the chart omitted. It was never the intention of the author or the publisher for the chart to appear the way that it did in the book.
The chart in question was meant to help students understand the different uses of the same terms for their exam. However, the published chart contains serious editorial errors that interfere with student comprehension. I sincerely apologize for the perceived and unintentional bias that can be inferred from mistakes I failed to catch.
It’s unclear whether “Seth” is indeed the author, as he claims. However, in 2011, Seth did write a five-star Amazon.com review of the AP European History guide extolling its “really good” charts, “perfect” content and absence of “superfluous and pedantic detail”:
The charts at the end of each chapter are really good . . . historical content is perfect . . . contains what students need to know for the exam without superfluous and pedantic detail.
In any case, the statements by Barron’s and “Seth” about the “unintentional” editorial errors -- or “formatting” problems? -- resemble the old gag from “Frasier”:
Say, a funny thing happened the other day. One of my patients had a rather amusing Freudian slip. He was having dinner with his wife and he meant to say, “Pass the salt.” But instead he said, “You’ve ruined my life, you blood-sucking shrew.”
Moreover, the apologies go on and on. Their lengthy insistence -- “never our intention to malign Justice Thomas, nor to become embroiled in the right vs. left politics of the day” and “sincerely apologize for the perceived and unintentional bias that can be inferred” -- recalls the old Monty Python gag:
We would like to apologize for the way in which politicians are represented in this programme. It was never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed, political time-servers who are more concerned with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government. Nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent. Nor to imply at any stage that they are squabbling little toadies without an ounce of concern for the vital social problems of today. Nor indeed do we intend that viewers should consider them as crabby, ulcerous, little self-seeking vermin with furry legs and an excessive addiction to alcohol and certain explicit sexual practices which some people might find offensive. We are sorry if this impression has come across.
The self-refuting statements by Barron’s and “Seth,” as they attempt to defend the indefensible, reveal the true nature of the “unintentional error” behind a slur against a sitting Supreme Court justice.
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Gayle Trotter is an attorney and writer.