Monday, December 19, 2011

It's a controversy that's been building for nearly two weeks now, but is one that could've ended a week ago had Lowe's simply admitted it made a mistake when it decided to pull its advertising from the TLC show All-American Muslim earlier this month. I'm sure you've seen at least some of the mountain of news coverage this issue has received.

Lowe's, which is headquartered in Mooresville and is the second-largest hardware store chain in the country (behind The Home Depot), continues to come under fire, with prominent people calling for boycotts of its stores. Music and fashion mogul Russell Simmons and his GlobalGrind site have been among the most vocal. Miss USA 2010, Rima Fakih, who is Muslim, has recently gotten on board as well. There were protests held in front of Lowe's Home Improvement stores around the country over the weekend, and a website,, has been set up.

Protesters rally outside of a Lowe's store in Maryland. [via]

On or around December 6, Lowe's made the decision to stop advertising on All-American Muslim, after being contacted by the Florida Family Association (click here to see original email of Lowe's response to the group). FFA had contacted several advertisers claiming: "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."

Somehow, Lowe's didn't seem to see for itself that, perhaps for the first time in TV history, a show was being denounced for what it didn't include. Companies have been known to pull their advertising when TV shows feature too much violence, nudity, sex, profanity, or hate speech, for example. But FFA believes All-American Muslim is unfit for companies to be associated with it because "the show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks..."

When news began to spread a little over a week ago that Lowe's had pulled its ads, the company posted a statement on its Facebook page on December 10, saying: "It appears that we managed to step into a hotly contested debate with strong views from virtually every angle and perspective – social, political and otherwise – and we’ve managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry. We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment."

But Lowe's didn't say a whole lot in that statement--nor did it apologize for pulling the ads--and certainly didn't address if it would do anything differently. That Facebook post garnered more than 28,000 comments in four days, with many people saying they would never shop at Lowe's again, and some supporting Lowe's for its stance. But there were almost as many comments with hateful and racist language, prompting Lowe's to remove the entire post from its page. It replaced it Wednesday with a post asking users to "keep your comments on this Facebook page respectful..." and "Again, we offer our sincere apology to anyone offended by our advertising business decision or posts on this page." That post has received nearly 12,000 comments so far.

Lowe's is usually active on Facebook, posting several times a day about sales at its stores, but the status addressing the controversy has been its only post in the last 10 days. And on Twitter, where it typically tweeted five to ten times a day, there hasn't been a post since December 10. So Lowe's, whose spokespeople have said in news interviews that the company stands by its decision regarding All-American Muslim, has gone silent on social media. While social media--and traditional media--are severely harming the company's reputation.

All of this could've ended last week if Lowe's would've addressed the issue better. Big businesses never seem to want to give the impression that they're caving on anything or are being pressured to do something, which is why I guess Lowe's hasn't reversed its decision (for a month, Bank of America stubbornly stood by its announced plans to add a $5 monthly debit card fee, until the public backlash became too great). Meanwhile, it appears to most people that Lowe's caved to the pressure from Florida Family Association, which in recent days has been exposed to have misled companies about its actual pull, so to speak.

There's a great article yesterday by USA Today ("TLC show brings Muslims in America out in the open") on the fallout surrounding All-American Muslim. The newspaper also produced a video interview with two of the cast members from the show. This only makes Lowe's look worse when you see these people talk about their lives, which aren't much different from most of us.

My advice to Lowe's: Have your CEO come out and say that the company made a hasty decision that was prompted by a so-called family association without doing more research into whether concern was merited. And to prove that you want to turn this unfortunate fiasco into a learning experience, Lowe's would sponsor a forum on racial and religious tolerance. Two would be held: one in Dearborn, Michigan, where All-American Muslim is filmed and where 30 percent of the population is Arab-American; and one in Charlotte, which is near Lowe's headquarters, so company executives can take part, and is where there have been two well-publicized incidents recently of Muslims being singled out during flights to and from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (a lawsuit was filed today regarding the first incident).

Lowe's: imagine that this problem is a leaking pipe under the kitchen sink. If you continue to ignore it, it will only get worse.

1 comment :

  1. Here's better advice to you, perhaps CAIR could sponsor a forum on racial and religious tolerance. How about that?


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