KPCC's Yasmin Nouh has been following the controversy over the Lowe's Home Improvement chain pulling its advertising from "All-American Muslim," an otherwise innocuous reality show set in Dearborn, Michigan that premiered last month on TLC. The decision to pull the ads, made after the chain was targeted by a religious-right Christian activist group in Florida, has turned into a public relations disaster for Lowe's, with boycotts threatened and critics alleging bigotry.
What gives? Here's Yasmin's report:
Lowe’s Home Improvement, a national chain store, recently pulled out commercials from TLC’s “All-American Muslim” reality show. A right-wing Christian group called the Florida Family Association led a fervent campaign, in which they urged over 60 corporations to end commercials during episodes.
In a statement on their website, the group calls the show "propaganda":
The Learning Channel's new show All-American Muslim is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law. The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.
The group alleges that 65 of 67 companies they targeted have followed Lowe’s move, claiming that Bank of America, Amazon and Home Depot have done the same, but Lowes is the only business that has verified the pull-out. On its Facebook page, the hardware chain posted a statement about its decision, a post that has garnered thousands of comments:
Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.
The fallout has been predictably intense, with a Facebook group calling for a boycott of the store and an online petition that has collected nearly 12,000 signatures, urging the company to stand up to "bigotry and fear-mongering."
Muslim groups in the U.S. have been advocating a variety of action items: contact Lowes, sign the petition, send an appreciation tweet to hip hop Mogul Russell Simmons for buying remaining ad time on the reality show, email a thank you to California Sen. Ted Lieu. In an open letter to Lowe’s CEO, Lieu, a Democrat, called Lowe’s decision “bigoted, shameful.”
Muslim bloggers have been sounding off as well. Shiela Musaji, a blogger for theamericanmuslim.org, wrote:
Shame on Lowe’s, and shame on every one of these companies if they really did cave in to such bigotry and hatred. Did this program not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines because it showed a Muslim policeman who self-identifies as an American? Was it because Muslims and Arabs were not portrayed as evil villains who are not “real Americans” and have no right to act as if they are normal human beings with families, mortgages, jobs, etc.?
Another thing some have sounded off about: As a business decision, what was Lowe's thinking? From a Facebook post from Nida Chowdhry, a UC Irvine film and media graduate:
In 1950's TV, black people would be portrayed as either jesters or maids. Nat King Cole's show got pulled off the air because racist people couldn't stand seeing a charming, intelligent, talented black man on TV: "After a trail-blazing year that shattered all the old bug-a-boos about Negroes on TV, I found myself standing there with the bat on my shoulder. The men who dictate what Americans see and hear didn't want to play ball." MUST WE REPEAT HISTORY? Please send a POLITE message to Lowe's Home Improvement or https://twitter.com/#!/Lowes.
Let them know that if pleasing anti-Muslim bigots is more important than embracing their diverse customer base, THEY JUST LOST YOUR BUSINESS!
Nancy Salem wrote on the Council of American Islamic Relations Facebook page:
The show doesn't represent me but I don't want to spend my money with companies that cave in to Islamophobic behavior.
According to Nova Advertising, a marketing services firm, American Muslims are the “largest, untapped, consumer niche." Just recently, corporations have begun to tap into the pockets of Muslim consumers, among them Whole Foods, Costco and Bristol Farms, all part of a national supermarket trend to sell halal food products as a way to draw Muslim customers. But such chains, like Whole Foods, are not immune from caving in to Islamophobia as well.
What do you think? Was pulling the ads warranted or a poor decision? Could the move wind up costing Lowe's more potential customers than had it not pulled the ads?