Bible bans and ‘Muslim’ boycotts

I just read my eleventy billionth story on the controversy surrounding the show All-American Muslim. You’ve likely heard about the controversy. You’ve not likely seen the show, according to the Hollywood Reporter:

Only five episodes into its first season, the series ranked 78th among Sunday’s cable broadcasts for Dec. 11. With only 908,000 viewers and a 0.3 rating among adults 18-49, it’s being easily outperformed by series like History’s American Pickers, Discovery’s Moonshiners and its latest lead-in, Little People Big World: Holiday Surprise.

Reviews haven’t been kind. Here’s Asra Q. Nomani in Newsbeast on why the charge — that advertisers are dropping due to an irrational fear of Islam — is silly. She says it’s boring and trite television. Obviously viewers agree.

So why the thousands upon thousands of stories I found when I Googled “All-American Muslim” and “Lowe’s”?:

The creators of the show have rallied massive support lobbying through groups such as Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit group run by the folks who wanted to create the “Ground Zero mosque,” Daisy Khan and Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf. In press releases and press briefings, they’ve trumpeted how they won over everyone from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to leading national media columnists.

The latest story is from The Charlotte Observer and a quick read of the lede suggests that all the previous coverage we saw might be in error. That previous narrative was that Lowe’s decided to drop its advertising from the show not because of it being the 78th-ranked series … on Sundays … on cable, but because a singular but shady Christian conservative outlet in Florida forced them into it.

You can read Bobby’s analysis of previous coverage, faulted for its lack of quotes from the accused.

Here’s the Observer:

Mooresville-based Lowe’s Inc. met Tuesday with local clergy who delivered a petition from people opposed to the retailer’s decision to pull commercials from a TV show about Muslim-Americans. But the company said it won’t reinstate the advertising.

Lowe’s also said its decision was not motivated by pressure from a Florida-based Christian group. The company stepped into a crossfire on Dec. 5, when it decided to stop advertising on the TLC show “All-American Muslim,” a reality program about families in Dearborn, Mich.

The Florida Family Association, which pressures companies to pull their ad dollars from shows it deems immoral, had emailed Lowe’s and other advertisers on the TLC show. “The decision was absolutely not, despite what’s been reported in the media, influenced by any one group,” said Lowe’s vice president of marketing, Tom Lamb. He said that the decision to stop advertising on the show had been made before the FFA emailed Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock.

Well then!

I have a theory that what happened is that this Florida group claimed it had gotten Lowe’s to stop advertising, a reporter simply confirmed with Lowe’s that they’d stopped advertising, and people forgot to ask them why before reporting that it was the result of FFA (or strongly suggesting the same). Or maybe the whole story, from start to finish, originated with the public relations campaign on the other side.

I don’t know. An executive with Kayak said “We believe TLC went out of their way to pick a fight on this, and they didn’t let us know their intentions. That’s not a business practice that generally gets repeat business from us. I also believe that it did this subject a grave disservice. Sadly, TLC is now enjoying the attention from this controversy.” He also said they decided not to renew advertising with the show because it was unwatchable.

Anyway, my whole point in looking at this story was because I learned of the controversy at the same time I learned of another controversy. And the disparity in coverage is really intriguing.

The other story is that a major and highly symbolic federal agency was caught officially restricting First Amendment rights. Walter Reed National Medical Center had issued a memo months ago barring visitors from bringing Bibles or other religious items in to patients.

Say what? I was sure the story couldn’t be true when I first heard about it but, in fact, it was. Almost immediately the higher-ups at Walter Reed admitted that they had issued the memo, said it was in error, and promised to rewrite it. I’m not sure if it was a government whistleblower who alerted a watchdog group or someone else, but a non-profit Christian group started complaining about it to Members of Congress and that’s what got the ball rolling.

Now, it seems an enterprising reporter might want to write a story or two looking into this, but it’s received remarkably little coverage. The excuses given by the government officials have been more or less accepted and the whole memo has been downplayed.

It hasn’t been completely ignored. Here’s a story from the Washington Examiner this week:

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is backtracking on an order that banned family members from bringing Bibles and other religious materials to injured soldiers and a religious organization is demanding an explanation.

Issued on the date of the official consolidation of the region’s two military medical centers, the memo on visitor and patient policy contained a section stating “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” The Sept. 14 memo came from the desk of Col. Norvell Coots, the commander of the Walter Reed Healthcare system.

A spokeswoman for Walter Reed told The Washington Examiner on Friday that the policy was “written incorrectly,” and that a ban on religious items was never enforced.

I don’t think this Google News search is quite accurate — and certainly not as accurate as a Lexis-Nexis search would be — but a search for Walter Reed bible ban yields 14 results to the Lowe’s story‘s 2240.

Should the story about the banning of Bibles (and other religious materials, like, oh, Korans) from Walter Reed really get a fraction of one percent (0.625%) as much coverage as why a private company stopped advertising on a particular show?

What do you think?

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  • Dave

    Of course both storie should get coverage! I have to wonder what the higher-ups at Walter Reed were thinking and I’d like some reporter to tell me.

  • Martha

    I saw mention of the Walter Reed story and did wonder about it; on the one hand, they may have gotten complaints about proselytising and obviously, they don’t want patients to be hounded by people trying to get them saved, but on the other hand – you can’t ask your auntie or your cousin Dave to bring in your rosary beads or Bible for you? ‘Cos that’s what it sounds like: no religious material during visits.

    Badly worded memo rather than deliberate policy – or is it? Clarification, please!

  • R9

    I did a brief search on Lowes and found this quote in a few places:
    “”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,”

    Which feels like dodging around a bit, really. Do they avoid advertising in all shows that touch on controversial topics? Or is this a cover screen for disapproval of this show’s message? Would be good to see some direct questioning.

    re: the hospital, like Martha I’m thinking some sort of protection against proslytysing, gone wrong.

    So in both cases, we need to hear more from the alleged villains of the piece!

  • Julia

    I think there is more unwanted religious stuff going on in hospitals than most people realize. When my mom was in ICU fighting for her life a neighbor barged in with a “faith healer” to lay hands on her and cure her She was married to a prominant doctor and the nurses were not keen on throwing her out so the family did and thereafter a family member was always standing guard to shoo these people away. After receiving communion and being prepped for surgery, some minister came into my hospital room and started praying over me – asking God to take my soul in case I died in surgery and other such downers when I was unable, because drugged, to even tell him to get out. Nurses are too busy to be patrolling for unwanted religious intrusions.

    I’m with the folks who think it was a badly worded memo.

  • Jerry

    It does seem clear from what R9 posted and what I’ve seen other places that Lowes did bow to pressure from a small group rather than make an economic decision.

    About the Walter Reed Bible ban, I do agree that the media should have covered it more than they did.

  • Trey

    Not all to surprising the MSM would ignore it. Who cares about Christians right? Remember they see Christians as the villains and the Muslims as another victim of Christian intolerance.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bibles? Yes, but as stated, the policy would have stopped my priest from using oil to administer the Sacrament of Healing or bread and wine in Communion of the Sick.

    I would accept at face value the spokesman’s claim of incompetence in writing the policy (Walter Reed has had some administrative problems, have they not?), but could a reporter not have dug around and found an example of it’s abuse? Is it true that the policy was never enforced? These two questions might have been addressed.

  • Bob Smietana

    I have a theory that what happened is that this Florida group claimed it had gotten Lowe’s to stop advertising, a reporter simply confirmed with Lowe’s that they’d stopped advertising, and people forgot to ask them why before reporting that it was the result of FFA (or strongly suggesting the same). Or maybe the whole story, from start to finish, originated with the public relations campaign on the other side.

    Since Lowe’s posted a statement saying they dropped the show because it was controversial, that’s another theory blown to hell to a little reporting.

    It’s always difficult to predict what stories will go viral and which won’t. It helps when activist groups push their side of story -but not always. The Family Research Council is pushing the Walter Reed story but not getting a lot of traction.

    One thought. The Walter Reed story is a DC-story – with a limited audience. Lowe’s is a national chain that people interact with all the time, and TLC is a national network -so the Lowe’s story connects personally with a broader audience.

  • Mollie

    Bob,

    No.

    Lowe’s said they’d made the decision to drop the ads before they were contacted by the Florida group. I didn’t say that they didn’t drop the ad because of negative chatter they’d been getting. Neither did I say that they don’t avoid advertising on controversial shows. The Charlotte Observer reports that out fairly well.

    I’m saying that the Florida Family Association blame may not have been reported well. Unless you have evidence that it was the Florida group that got Lowe’s to drop it — contra what Lowe’s itself claims …

  • Bob Smietana

    Mollie:

    I’m saying that the Florida Family Association blame may not have been reported well.

    Ha.

    That’s not what you said.

    Let’s look at the facts.

    The story Lowe’s told the Charlotte Observer, which the post is about, doesn’t match the statement they gave back on the 12th, which is in this story

    Here’s the statement they made:
    “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 it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

    You are right that the FFA took credit for forcing Lowe’s to change their mind.

    But it’s not just a case of Lowe’s canceling an ad on a sucky show.

  • Jeffrey

    Bob is absolutely right here. Lowe’s story has changed and now they are backtracking. There are a number of well reported stories on the original Lowe’s explanation for pulling the ad.

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  • Bill

    One report I read on the Walter Reed story said officials claimed the the memo “accidentally” banned Bibles and other religious items. I laughed. Not a very nimble sidestep.

    Bob Smietana #8 wrote: “The Walter Reed story is a DC-story – with a limited audience.” I’m not sure, Bob. When the pastor of a 22 member congregation burns a Quran, it is national news. Walter Reed is a facility of the US Army, a much bigger outfit, paid for by taxpayers across the US.

    As for the All-American Muslim advertising controversy, I suspect Lowes is worried primarily about sales, and would like to avoid anything that would hurt the bottom line. If I were running the Florida Family Association, I’d claim the FFA was responsible for Lowes dropping advertising; I’d then send emails and letters to contributors claiming how effective the FFA is and I’d ask for money. If I were the head of a Muslim group I’d want to pin it on anti-Muslim bias; I’d then send emails and letters to contributors claiming how effective the Muslim group is and I’d ask for money. If I were running Lowes, I’d wish I’d never heard of the show.

  • WhollyRoamin

    This is a confusing blog post. What is the relationship between bad TV programming and Walter Reed? I’m also confused on why the show is bad TV– is it insulting one group or another, is it misleading, does it suffer for lack of plot?

    I feel like Get Religion has just given me a list of research topics rather than answering any questions.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Sorry for my delay but Bob, Lowe’s has never denied dropping the ads because of controversy.

    That was reported before and it’s reported in the Charlotte Observer story linked above. Indeed, in the quote excerpted above, they say that the decision wasn’t influenced by any one group. Meaning, presumably, that it was influenced by multiple groups. I’m just talking about how people linked it to FFA. Such as lines like this:

    The decision by Lowe’s to drop the ads came after pressure from a conservative evangelical Christian group, the Florida Family Association.

    and Associated Press:

    The conservative group that got Lowe’s to pull its ads from a reality TV show about American Muslims has been fighting for more than two decades against gay rights, strip clubs and most anything else that offends evangelical Christians.

    One can understand why reporters would assume that FFA was responsible. I myself supposed that FFA CLAIMED responsibility, for instance. But it’s sort of like all the conclusions people jump to every time someone from an Arab country with a Muslim name is arrested for doing something. Even reasonable assumptions must be checked.

    Was FFA responsible for getting Lowe’s to cancel? Or was it general negative chatter or even just lots of political chatter in general?

    The quoted statement you cite from Lowe’s doesn’t say anything about FFA in particular.

    Again, Lowe’s has consistently said they dropped the show because of controversy. They have not said they dropped the show because of FFA. So my theory is not blown, much less, uh, “blown to hell.” It may be wrong, but the quote you cite from them doesn’t refute it.

    I know it’s very easy to make this the story it’s become. I just think that a few key points (the general unwatchableness of the show and the actual groups weighing in, for instance) have been reported in a less-than-ideal fashion.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think the fact that some Muslims see “All American Muslim” are perpetuating false stereotypes about Muslims and doing them a disservice deserves more coverage then it has gotten.

    Sadly the media in trying to find easy and quick sources of “American Muslim” voices has created the false notion that they are a homogenous group that agrees on most issues.

  • Mary

    Couldn’t Lowes have predicted the show would be controversial? If I were someone who would pull advertising on a show that was controversial I would also think about controversy when choosing shows to air my advertisements.

  • Jeffrey

    But Mollie, now you are shifting your own theories. You implied in your original post that Lowes dropped the ads because the show had poor ratings, their current argument, and that it had nothing to do with being anti-Muslim or from pressure from conservative groups. You even suggested that the story was being orchestrated my pro-Muslim groups.

    So do you think anti-Muslim animus played any rule or not?