The national hardware chain Lowe's pulled its advertising from the TLC reality show All-American Muslim–explaining that the question of whether Muslims can be presented as regular human beings is a "hotly contested debate."
All-American Muslim is a reality show described by TLC, the cable channel that airs it, as "a look at life in Dearborn, Michigan–home to the largest mosque in the United States–through the lens of five Muslim American families…an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community."
But the Florida Family Association, a right-wing group leading the charge against the program, saw it as part of a sinister plot:
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.
Note the parallel between this argument and a complaint that Jersey Shore doesn't depict any of its Italian-American cast members as members of the Mafia.
Mobilizing its members to send emails calling on advertisers to boycott the show, FFA scored a victory. The company responded to the group (Hollywood Reporter, 12/9/11), "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."
Lowe's decision prompted an outraged response–one activist wrote, "Will you next consider KKK's demands to pull ads from BET?" (Hollywood Reporter, 12/9/11)–leading to an explanation of sorts posted on the company's 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 lighting 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.
Unfortunately, pulling your ads from a television show because it depicts a group of people as normal Americans is not a way to "respectfully defer"–it's taking the side of bigots who believe that that group must always be portrayed as frightening and dangerous.
Lowe's concluded its message: "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." One might well question the commitment of Lowe's to the right of people to express the viewpoint that Muslims are human beings when it withholds its advertising from programs that make that point. The calculation that it's safer not to associate oneself with groups that are hated by a vocal minority highlights the danger of relying on corporate sponsorship to support a media system that one hopes would actually embody the values that Lowe's pretends to have.