Lowe’s still avoiding a meaningful apology for their lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion

Lowe’s still avoiding a meaningful apology for their lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion

by Sheila Musaji


Of course any company has the right to spend its’ advertising dollars anywhere they want.  Of course, canceling ads because of low ratings would be a reasonable business decision.  Of course, individuals and corporations have freedom of speech, and can express any opinion they want to express, even if it is a bigoted opinion.  Lowe’s could have stated perfectly reasonable reasons for its decision, but they did not.  The issue here is that Lowe’s public statements make it clear that they made a business decision that was a result of pressure.

After looking at the content of Lowe’s various statements, other people have the right to decide that their decision is bigoted,  or at least plays into the hands of bigots,  and also to use their freedom of speech to respond to that bigotry.  Lowe’s can spend their advertising dollars in any way they wish, and others can spend their purchasing dollars in any way they wish.  Decisions do have consquences.

Let’s look at what has actually been said.

FIRST STATEMENT

On 12/6/2011  this email was sent text of the original from Lowe’s to the FFA

Thank you for contacting Lowe’s.  We work hard to listen to our customers and respond to their concerns.  Lowe’s has strict guidelines that govern the placement of our advertising. Our company advertises primarily in national, network prime-time television programs and on a variety of cable outlets.  Lowe’s constantly reviews advertising buys to make certain they are consistent with its policy guidelines.

While we continue to advertise on various cable networks, including TLC, there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention.  Lowe’s will no longer be advertising on that program.

Ashley C. Woods reported that Katherine Cody, a public relations representative for Lowe’s, emailed her this statement confirming that Lowe’s had cancelled the remainder of its scheduled advertising

“We understand the program raised concerns, complaints, or issues from multiple sides of the viewer spectrum, which we found after doing research of news articles and blogs covering the show. We based our decision to pull the advertising on this research and after hearing the concerns we received through emails, calls, through social media and in news reports.”

ANALYSIS:  At this point Lowe’s is saying that they did cancel already scheduled ads because their “strict advertising guidelines” “were not met” by this program, and that their decision was influenced by “emails, calls, social media and news reports”  that expressed “concerns” and their own “research” after hearing those complaints from a “broad spectrum of viewers”.  Lowe’s canceled their advertising after the FFA campaign had begun.

The FFA immediately used this as “proof” of their effectiveness in influencing Lowe’s.  Our TAM backgrounder on this issue is titled American Companies Accused of Joining the All-American Anti-Muslim Bandwagon, and contains details, source references, and quotes about every aspect of this incident to date.  Lowe’s has not said that they object to to these accusations by FFA and other Islamophobes that they caved to their message. Lowe’s has not said that such claims misrepresent their decision.  Lowe’s has not said that they disagree with the message of the bigots. 


STATEMENT OF CLARIFICATION

On 12/10/2011, Lowe’s published this statement of “clarification” on their Facebook page

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.    Lowe’s has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible.  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 [b ]it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.    We strongly support and respect the right of our customers, the community at large, and our employees to have different views. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.  Thank you for allowing us to further explain our position.

On 12/12/2011 Lowe’s updated the clarification:

“As you know, the TLC program All-American Muslim has become a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives – political, social and otherwise.  Following this development, dozens of companies removed their advertising from the program beginning in late November. Lowe’s made the decision to discontinue our advertising on Dec. 5. As we shared yesterday, we have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.”

 

ANALYSIS:  Lowe’s says that “individuals and groups” have strong views on “this topic”, and that the program had become a “lightening rod”  for controversy back in November, and that due to “this development” , “dozens of companies removed their advertising” as early as late November.  Lowe’s is suggesting that they held out longer than “dozens” of unnamed others before they caved to bigotry.  Lowe’s believes that “it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups”  which strongly suggests that if bigotry is expressed loudly enough they will support it.  Their statement suggests that bigoted Islamophobia is simply one of a number of equally valid perspectives.  The “topic” they avoiding mentioning is American Muslims.  And, many of us are questioning Lowe’s commitment to diversity.  The smear campaign by FFA and others started back in November when the program first went on the air. 

Ahmed Rehab Lowe’s is putting forth a very dangerous argument: that the far right bigots and the mainstream Muslim voices with their pro-tolerance allies of all faiths are equal opposites; that those who wish to humanize a faith community that comprises 25% of humanity and those who wish to demonize them are equal opposites; that the forces of bigotry and the forces of anti-bigotry are equal opposites. The pervasive assumption that there is a moral equivalency between the two sparring sides is a major factor in the rise of Islamophobia in the US. But Lowe’s goes further than to claim moral equivalency. It actually takes sides, the wrong side: the side of the bigots.

Arsalan Iftikhar This argument is lunacy and is a pretext for bigotry against Muslims, plain and simple. Using this sophomoric logic, the TLC reality show “Sister Wives” is a covert campaign to promote fundamentalist Mormon polygamy across America.  ... Wait a minute, Lowe’s. Exactly what “topic” are you talking about? Are we 7 million American Muslims merely a “topic” to discuss in today’s America? In 2011, do we live in a country in which an entire minority group can be dehumanized as a “topic?”


STATEMENTS AFTER INTERFAITH PETITIONS DELIVERED

On 12/20/2011 a group of clergy took the signatures collected on petitions by People For the American Way, Faithful America, Change.org, CREDO, SumOfUs, and Groundswell.  The petitions they delivered represented over 200,000 signatures

These 200,000 signatures are separate from the first petition Repudiate Calls to Stop Advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim” prepared by a group of Muslim activists and hosted on SignOn.org that has gone viral, and now has 42,000 signatures.  These petitions also had a different focus as they called on Lowe’s to reinstate their ads, which the petiton prepared by Muslim activists did not.  The clergy members were:  — Pastor Russ Dean of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, the Rev. Jay Leach of Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte and the Rev. Dennis Teall-Fleming of Open Hearts Gathering in Gastonia, who are members of a local interfaith group.

The clergy met with executives of Lowe’s for about an hour.  Megan Sprague reports that  ...  Pastor Dean said “It was admitted that the situation was handled clumsily but it was important to sit down and talk, because what happened was not true to the values Lowe’s has always portrayed.  We also admit that we responded to misinformation and knew that the company was better than they’ve been portrayed lately.  This was never a battle; we just wanted to reaffirm Lowe’s commitment to diversity.” Rev. Dean also said that the clergy “respected (Lowe’s) business decision,” even if they didn’t agree with it. Rev. Dean is saying that his group “responded to “misinformation”.  I would like to know what “misinformation” that might have been, and how he can go beyond understanding to respecting such a decision.  Perhaps he was misquoted or the quote was taken out of context. 

The Charlotte Observer lays out Lowe’s description during this meeting of the chain of events:

Lowe’s spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said the show’s first ad to run on “All-American Muslim” on Sunday, Dec. 4, was part of a bulk buy, in which the retailer buys a set amount of time on a network but doesn’t specify the shows its ads will appear on. Lowe’s was aware one of those shows could be “All-American Muslim,” but was not concerned.

On the morning of Monday, Dec. 5, Ahearn said that a member of Lowe’s social media team brought negative chatter about the show to management’s attention that was appearing on social networks. The decision to pull the ads was made shortly afterwards, Ahearn said, and communicated to TLC through Lowe’s ad-buying agency.  That afternoon, Ahearn said, Lowe’s CEO received an email from the FFA about “All-American Muslim.” The company responded with a form letter confirming the ads had already been pulled, Ahearn said.

Lamb said he was “surprised” that the FFA was credited with pressuring Lowe’s into pulling its advertising, a move he characterized as a routine decision. Ahearn said Lowe’s changes its ad line-up dozens of times a year, and will pull ads from shows deemed controversial perhaps eight to 10 times a year. She did not provide any specific examples of other shows Lowe’s has pulled ads from recently.

It was also reported that Chris Ahern said during this meeting:  “We have no problem with the content of the show.  They pulled their ads from the show not because of the show itself—but because of the controversy around it.  It was what people were saying about the show”  And that, Lowe’s vice president of marketing, Tom Lamb said The decision was absolutely not, despite what’s been reported in the media, influenced by any one group.”

Faith in Public Life adds more details on the meeting:  Rev. Dennis Teall-Fleming, a Faithful America member and pastor of Open Hearts Gathering in Gastonia, NC, who led the petition delivery, pushed Lowe’s on this explanation, asking whether they would’ve done the same thing if the “controversy” were anti-Semitic complaints about the depiction of a Jewish family or racist objections to a show about African-Americans.  Lowe’s deflected the question, continuing to insist that their decision was unconnected to specific right-wing pressure and instead linked to “general controversy,” a completely unsatisfactory response.  ...  Faithful America’s members and the other hundreds of thousands of concerned Americans will be watching — they won’t let Lowe’s off the hook until the company makes clear its commitment to pluralism and tolerance by reinstating their advertising on “All American Muslim.”  And, this detail is the most damning What’s more, reports from today’s meeting indicate that prior to the controversy, Lowe’s had conversations about how buying a block of advertisements on TLC but excluding the All-American Muslim show would violate their anti-discrimination policy. They failed to explain how subsequently pulling their ads fails to do the same.

ANALYSIS:  Lowe’s knew this program was part of its’ ad buy, but was “not concerned” until they were made aware of “what people were saying about the show”, and they still have “no problem with the content” of the program, only with the controversy. Lowe’s did have internal discussions about whether excluding this program from their ad buy would “violate their anti-discrimination poligy.”  After becoming aware of this undefined and unnamed controversy, on 12/5 when “negative internet chatter” was brought to their attention, Lowe’s pulled it’s ads.  The “negative chatter” was instigated by the FFA and expanded by an entrenched Islamophobia network.  No matter how many Islamophobic groups were involved in creating this smear campaign, they are all connected.  What matters is not how many groups influenced Lowe’s decision.  What matters is that Lowe’s was influenced by a bigoted campaign.  Whether the source of that bigotry was the FFA or any number of individuals and groups, it really doesn’t matter.  Lowe’s is standing by its decision. 


THE APOLOGY & THE COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

we’ve managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry.  ...  We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment.  If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize. 

ANALYSIS:  Lowe’s is apologizing only for handling this in such a way that they might have made some people question their commitment to diversity.  This is not an apology for caving to bigotry.  They are sorry that “some people are very unhappy”.  That is not an apology to the American Muslim community.  In fact, nowhere in any of the statements or clarifications by Lowe’s is the word “Muslim” used at all - only vague references to “this topic” and “anyone”.  As Jibril Hough from the Islamic Center of Charlotte said  “It’s like if I slap you in the face and then I apologize that it hurts you.” he said. 

There is no statement by Lowe’s anywhere that they reject the bigotry and venom directed at the entire Muslim community.  Lowe’s has said nothing about canceling because of legitimate business decisions, e.g. not a large enough audience.  Lowe’s says that they have no problem with the content of the program, but have not clarified what problem they do have.  Lowe’s has not said that they object to having their reputation damaged by the claims made by FFA and other Islamophobes about their decision.  If their “commitment to diversity and inclusion” is not strong enough to stand up even to bigoted internet “chatter”, then it is not a very strong commitment.  The fact that Lowe’s admits that “what people were saying” influenced their decision is a serious concern because it has encouraged the bigots who see this as a victory, and that can only encourage them to attempt more such despicable actions. 

A commitment is a promise or an obligation to something.  Lowe’s stated reasons for their decision don’t show “commitment” unless we re-define the word to mean something like - we will stand for the ideal of diversity and inclusion as long as it doesn’t cause us any discomfort. While I can understand Lowe’s making a purely business decision, I cannot respect that decision.


THE BUSINESS DECISION TO PULL ADS

No matter what decision Lowe’s made, there would have been some unhappy customers.  They a business decision that seems to have concluded that the bigots represented a larger market share of their customer base than the Muslims and non-bigots.

I believe that this was a faulty business decision based on the following two facts.

Fact One — Brigitte Gabrielle’s ACT for America started a counter petition in support of Lowe’s and FFA’s original bigoted reasons for demanding an advertising boycott of this program.  As of 12/20, and after promoting this widely on many sites and in emails, they have collected 32,000 signatures. 

As Deena Douara noted Lowe’s and Kayak did not kowtow to a fringe extremist group. They did a simple calculation: Are we likely to increase our customer base by advertising on a show about ordinary Muslim Americans, or are we going to lose customers who do not even watch the show because the Muslims portrayed are too ordinary? Are there more Muslims and progressives, or bigots and racists? In Lowe’s calculation, the greater risk was in losing the bigots.    Which is not an unreasonable assumption.    When politicians, networks, and journalists are comfortable airing their fears about Islam and presenting them as fact, then bigotry is normalized, rationalized, and acceptable.

In this case Lowe’s and Kayak miscalculated.  Even if ACT’s claims are true, 242,000 versus 32,000 signatures shows that there are a lot more Americans who want to end bigotry than there are Americans who want to perpetuate bigotry.

Fact Two — David Caton of FFA claims that the FFA was responsible for over 1,000,000 emails collectively sent to all advertisers on the show. 

This email campaign is a lesson in the power of a very small group to create what seems like a much larger response than it really is by using social media.  Even if we take Caton’s claim of 1,000,000 emails sent out at face value, that number could have been generated by only 15,384 or fewer individuals.  They provided a link that allowed you to click once and send out letters to all the companies they were targeting.  If that was 65 companies as they claim, then 15,384 people each sending 65 emails with one click could equal 1,000,000 emails.  FFA actually sent out the emails in waves and had four separate action alerts to all of the people on their email list.  Anyone sending out one of their letters automatically gets on their email list to be notified of the next letter writing campaign.  This means that it is possible that one individual sending letters in each of the 4 campaigns could have generated 260 letters.  This also means that it is possible that this huge volume of emails could have been generated by as few as 3,846 individuals.


IS THERE A WAY TO MOVE FORWARD?

As the Arab American ADC said The response of Lowe’s – and indeed every advertiser – should have been even prouder sponsorship and indeed moral leadership to make clear that Lowe’s stands for the beloved community, not naked bigotry, in America. Such leadership would have earned Lowe’s customer respect and a stronger brand. By taking the opposite course and pulling your ads, Lowe’s has demonstrated moral cowardice rather than courage. In so doing, you have lost countless customers and have irrevocably damaged your brand among millions of Americans.    To begin to undo the enormous damage that your indefensible decision has produced and to remedy the hurt that you have caused millions of American Muslims, ADC demands that Lowe’s (a) issue an unequivocal public apology for your decision to pull ads from “All-American Muslim” and (b) take serious action to demonstrate your commitment to diversity and religious tolerance in America.

The National Council of Churches said The NCC hopes that Lowe’s would embody this commitment by speaking out against bigotry and ignorance and by countering efforts to perpetuate the kinds of discrimination, most likely experienced by many in their workforce and customer base among countless others, that result from them.”

It’s too late for Lowe’s to reinstate their ads, as all of the ad slots are already sold out.  However,  Lowe’s would have to do something much more concrete than it has to date in order to alleviate the concerns of many in the American Muslim community, as well as their allies in the struggle against bigotry. 

Perhaps Lowe’s might meet with some representatives of the Muslim community and see if there are any efforts they could undertake to show that they really are committed to inclusion.  Maybe something creative like partnering with local Muslim communities and Habitat for Humanity to build homes for the poor.  Perhaps ....

For now, encouraging Muslims and those who stand with us against bigotry to BOYCOTT LOWE’S and take their business elsewhere is the only option.

We can also use the lessons we have learned in this particular crisis to respond more proactively to such situations.  As we have learned, the Florida Family Association’s anti-Muslim campaign, and Lowe’s decision has also had many Unintended Positive Consquences.

 

SEE ALSO:  Keith Olberman discussion about the 200,000 petitions and the meeting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQjexXr2vgM


Google