Lancaster Paper and Stephen Colbert Compare Cramped Planes to Slave Ships

Only one is forced to apologize. Humor ain't easy.


The image seen here is a depiction of the way that slaves were transported on ships. And a Lancaster newspaper decided to use these deplorable conditions to illustrate how crowded airplanes have become. And so did Stephen Colbert, in the same week. Can you guess which one apologized?

On Saturday, the Lancaster New Era paper ran a since-deleted editorial cartoon that “compared a slave ship packed tight with human beings brought to America for a life of forced servitude with the discomfort of airline travel,” according to an apology/statement published by the newspaper’s editor and president on Thursday morning after letters to the editor poured in.

Here’s more from that apology:

To somehow link the inconveniences of air travel with slavery in general and the slave ships in particular was not only just plain wrong it was deeply hurtful to our African American community and all those who understand the horrors inflicted on the men and women forced into the slave trade.

It both trivialized and demeaned their experience…

As a Lancaster County pastor said of the editorial cartoon: “The African Slave trade was our holocaust and to a majority of sane African Americans it is painful for us to even entertain.”

While the editorial cartoon was not drawn by someone on our staff, the decision to run it on our pages was made here. We are deeply sorry about printing this offensive cartoon.

We are also reshaping our editorial pages to focus on community issues and opportunities that more directly affect your lives. Our goal is that the editorial page becomes a running conversation with the people of Lancaster County, a collective effort to make our community a better one.

We cannot erase the error we made last week. We only can promise to do better — and then follow through on that promise.

And here are some reactions to the newspaper’s apology from its readers:

That it even ran in the very first place…I shall never buy this newspaper again…and will encourage all of my friends and colleagues to do the same AS WELL AS not advertise in the paper. One might even say that my decision will make no impact to the bottom line….trust me…I disagree!!! – Monica Mixon

This is why I don’t read your paper. It is and has been hurtful to many here in Lancaster County – John Sokolowski

That you would have run it in the first place show’s the depth’s to which your litter box liner has sunk. What did the other Black reporters and editor’s have to say? Oh that’s right. You have none. – Mark Wolf

Theres an island of human bones on the route those ships took! – Jim White

Meanwhile, Colbert made virtually the same joke on his Comedy Central show on September 3rd in a segment called “Coach-Class Conflicts” about passengers who fight on airplanes because they are overly cramped.


“I recently saw a truly revolutionary new seating design,” says Colbert, while the slave ship image appears on the screen. “Not only can you pack twice as many people into coach, you can fill the cargo hold with spices and molasses to bring back from the colonies.”

Apparently, the actually conservative Lancaster newspaper thought it could use the same joke that a fakely conservative comedian could make. Think again. The full Colbert video below.