The editor of The Economist writes to us


Last week, Ed Lasky posted a blog item criticizing The Economist magazine of the U.K. for publishing an article he felt ridiculed the death of Christians. In response, the Editor in Chief of The Economist, Bill Emmott, wrote to us questioning the item, and a back—and—forth correspondence ensued. In the interest of fairness to Mr. Emmott and his magazine, and because the exchange is rather interesting, we present the original item followed by the correspondence.

The Original item

Economist magazine ridicules death of Christians

Another sign of the Times (NY, that is). The Economist magazine, like the New York Times, is often considered de rigueur reading by the elites of the world. It positions itself as a magazine for the world, since it covers developments around the world (akin to the BBC — both evolved their international orientation due to the history of British colonialism).

The world is a big place, and the magazine has only so many pages to fit all the news fit to print between its covers. But they did find some space to ridicule the death of a Texas Baptist pastor by electrocution as he was performing a baptism. The article went on to cover other deaths or health controversies in Texas that came during religious observances or from religious zealots (the explosion at the Davidians compound, a Catholic priest pricking the fingers of children to simulate the pain suffered by Christ). A two—fer by the Economist: making fun of religious people who also happen to be Texans. The title of the article, by the way, 'Texas's Dangerous Churches' — probably an apt view of how they and their readers see George Bush's America.

Ed Lasky  11 08 05


Mr. Emmott's first email

Dear Editor

I am flattered that Edward Lasky should pay attention to small articles in The Economist. But I confess to being puzzled. How, exactly, does Mr Lasky think we "ridiculed" the Baptist pastor's death? How, exactly, does he think we made "fun of religious people who also happen to be Texans". I hope your readers click on the link and make up their minds for themselves.

Yours sincerely

Bill Emmott
The Economist


Ed Lasky's response

A previous AT posting took note of the anomalous coverage by the English Economist magazine of incidents involving Texas  churches. This provoked a response from Bill Emmott, an editor of the magazine, who took issue with my characterization of  their article as ridiculing the death of the pastor and also disapproved of my opinion that the magazine was "making fun of religious people who also happen to be Texans".

I still host fast to my opinion.

Why The Economist would choose to highlight the deaths and embarrassing incidents involving various Christian religious figures in Texas befuddles me. After all, I made note that the magazine covers the world as few other media outlets do and clearly concerns itself with the issues of large import. When a magazine covers issues that are outside their usual bailiwick I think some skepticism about their motives is in order.

The magazine article in question devoted scarce and valuable journalistic space to these stories:  a pastor recently accidentally electrocuted himself while performing a baptism and a priest who raised the ire of parents by slightly pricking the fingers of children with an unsterilized needle to give them a small sense of the Crucifixion. The magazine must have thought this was thin gruel so it searched news stories for other grisly incidents **involving churchgoers** and, sure enough, dredged up the decade—plus old Davidian story and a seven year old story of churchgoers killed by a deranged madman.
The bundling together of such incidents appears to me to be intended to ridicule Christianity, portraying it as a bizarre practice which attracts more than its share of odd, careless, and crazy adherents.

Has The Economist packaged other unusual accidental deaths around the nation (or world) that do not involve baptism? Has it covered other acts by non—religious figures that have concerned parents? By the standards of the article, they could have gone back years and years to find a bevy of "interesting" and "out of the ordinary" accidental deaths and could have used stories from other states or nations. Instead they focused only on incidents involving Texas Christians and had to go back years to find enough stories to write an article clearly meant to disparage them.

Anyone who reads much of the Euro—media and is a subscriber to The Economist (I plead guilty) can appreciate that these media outlets have a  bent: they don't care for Christians, are iffy about Jews (as shown by their disdain for Israel and their willful downplaying of anti—Semitism in the Muslim world), and certainly think of Texans as a breed apart.

Ed Lasky


Mr. Emmott's second email

Now I see Mr Lasky's problem: he has a prejudicial thesis that he wishes to support: we don't, apparently," care for Christians, are iffy about Jews, disdainful about Israel and we willfully play down anti—Semitism". My God, if He will forgive me.

This Mr Lasky must surely know, if he is truly a subscriber, to be utter nonsense. I shall not stoop to defend "the Euro media", whatever that generality might mean, but none of his accusations are true of The Economist. One would need only to read the cover story we ran in our Christmas issue of 2004, on the role of the Virgin Mary in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, to refute his accusation. You could add to that our staunch defence over almost 60 years of Israel's right to security (and of course to exist) and of more recently of the rationale for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, why did we carry this story on Texan churches, if we generally carry news of great world import? Because every week we seek to find a balance of stories some of which are, yes, of great importance but also many stories that may simply be of interest to our readers. We do not, as Mr Lasky implies, rank the world's news stories and publish the 100 most important. To those of great importance we add stories that are of the unusual, the out—of—the—ordinary or simply that cast a slightly different light on an unfamiliar subject. That was the point of the very short piece based on the sad death of the Texan Baptist pastor: it cast just a little light on the sort of technology and indeed of controversies that can be found in this sort of church. It was not, though, intended to be humorous or to ridicule either Texas or Christianity: if it had been, we'd have been sure to put some jokes in there.

Our latest issue (November 12th) illustrates the point. In the Europe section, Mr Lasky will be able to find a small box of similar length to that on Texas, which is about a German folk singer and a type of songs. It is not important, and is not intended to ridicule Germans, but just to highlight something interesting. In the United States section, though, he will find a piece about a pumpkin—shooting contest in Delaware. Now, that one is indeed intended to amuse. As Mr Lasky might put it, we've scored a two—fer: we've ridiculed both vegetables and people from Delaware. But, obviously, we ran it only because we couldn't find anything funny about Texas, about Jews or about Christians. (That's irony, Mr Lasky.)

Bill Emmott
Editor in chief
The Economist

Ed Lasky's response

The article covered the deaths and injuries of Christians in Texas; to compare coverage of the unusual ways they were injured and died to  coverage of German folk songs or pumpkin—shooting is a bit insensitive.  If I were a member of the pastor's family, I would be hurt. We can put that issue aside, though.

The unusual ways they died is what provided grist for the article.  If this were the only focus of The Economist piece then a ready source of better material can be found by contacting the group behind the Darwin Awards which annually produces a list of people who die under unusual circumstances.

Instead, The Economist chose to focus on a limited subset of deaths and injuries to inform (or amuse?) its readers: Christians from Texas. When a group is singled out for special "treatment" that act in and of itself becomes suspect.

One does not have to go very far in researching European media to appreciate that Europeans are exposed to a view of Texans and Christians (epitomized by George Bush) that is less than flattering. This article seems to be part and parcel of that particular mindset.


Mr. Emmott's response

Lest they be concerned about our "European mindset", I will simply add for Mr Lasky's and for American Thinker readers' information that the author of our offending article is American and is based in Texas. It may also be useful to add that 50% of the one million weekly sales of The Economist are in North America and less than 40% are in Europe. So our American correspondents are not simply pandering to European prejudices.