First Person: Amazon Customer Petition Wins Fairer Treatment for Carter Book

By Henry Norr
Friday January 26, 2007

Ten days after I began a campaign to protest Amazon’s hostile presentation of former President Jimmy Carter’s book on Palestine, and a day after the petition with more than 16,000 signatures was delivered to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the company responded by revamping the page in a way that puts the book in a completely different light. 

The petition complained that Amazon had abandoned its usual evenhandedness by posting the full text of a lengthy attack on Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in its “Editorial Reviews” section—and by repeatedly refusing customer requests that it add a more positive review in the same location for balance. 

In signing the petition, customers pledged to stop shopping at Amazon if the retailer did not come up with a more balanced page by Jan. 22. A copy of the petition, some 16,200 signatures, and supporting materials were sent to Bezos and his staff on Friday. The following morning, the “Editorial Reviews” section of the page listing Carter’s book was overhauled: It now begins with a glowing tribute from Amazon to the former president’s achievements and an interview with him about the book, plus a photo of him and graphic links to some of his other books—all new material, and all of it posted ahead of the negative review. 

This is a huge victory. The whole tone of the page is different now. Instead of saying, in effect, “Stay away from this vile book,” what it now conveys is the truth: that this is an important and fair-minded, even if controversial, book by a distinguished American who has unique qualifications to address the issue of Palestine. 

Paul Larudee, an El Cerrito piano technician who helped me organize the protest campaign, said, “Of course Amazon deserves credit for responding after initially refusing to make a change. However, the real credit goes to the thousands of petition signers who exercised their power—in this case the nonviolent power to take their business elsewhere. It gives hope that boycotts and other nonviolent efforts can help to end the larger injustices that Carter addresses in his book.” 

I’m sorry Amazon continues to display the review by Jeffrey Goldberg because I think it’s horribly unfair and misleading, and I still wish they would add one of the other reviews we suggested. Some people who signed the petition have let me know that they still intend to close their accounts if Amazon doesn’t make more changes, and I understand their feelings. But what the petition was really demanding was fair and balanced treatment for the book, and on the whole I think we’ve come pretty close to that objective.