Under pressure form a small right-wing group, Lowe’s—the world’s second-largest home improvement retailer—pulled ads this week from TLC’s new television show, All-American Muslim. The show follows five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, as they go about their business—marrying, having children, running businesses and generally being human and Muslim in post 9/11 America. The company’s decision came after a group called the Florida Family Association asked its members to e-mail Lowe’s and voice their outrage, claiming All-American Muslim is “propaganda” that is “clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.”
The Lowe’s decision has prompted some pushback—a boycott threat from Russell Simmons, statements of displeasure from Congressmen Keith Ellison and John Conyers and protest petitions from MoveOn.org and CREDO. But regardless of the company’s next move (currently, it is holding firm), the speed of its surrender to an extreme group peddling outright bigotry should give us pause and force a closer look at how the landscape has shifted in a country that claims religious tolerance as a founding principle. Simply put, the bigots won way too easily.
Having run similar campaigns targeting companies who advertise on objectionable shows, I know how formidable a challenge it is to get a profit-focused company to take a stand on anything perceived as remotely politically controversial. Businesses have an inherent and driving incentive to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, and any move they make in this space risks making news that alienates customers on one side of the issue or the other. Successful campaigns generally either spend months painstakingly establishing a clear pattern of abhorrent behavior on a show, or successfully capitalize on specific indefensible remarks by one individual. The campaign against Glenn Beck for instance, did both, and eventually resulted in a demonstrable loss of hundreds of advertisers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. But this kind of action required almost two years and the mobilization of multiple organizations with millions of members to document and publicize dozens of instances of Glen Beck’s making racist, anti-Semitic and even violent statements.
Neither the content of All-American Muslim or the strength of the campaign against it rise anywhere close to the levels of other successful advertiser campaigns. In place of Glenn Beck’s claim that the president is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” last week’s sixty-minute episode of AAM depicted a newlywed adjusting to her non-Muslim spouse’s dog and new parents grappling with having an infant in the house. In place of many prominent African-American and Jewish groups and leaders calling Beck out for his race-baiting, we have the Florida Family Association and its modest list of members—hardly a political powerhouse—to be reckoned with. That equation just doesn’t seem to add up.