In Lowe’s ‘backlash,’ a fair hearing?

I first learned about the home-improvement chain Lowe’s pulling its advertising from a Muslim reality show when I came across a Religion News Service report over the weekend. The subject interested me, in part, because I wrote a recent Christianity Today story on corporate boycotts.

The top of the RNS report, which I saw on the Washington Post website:

Lowe’s, the national hardware chain, has pulled commercials from future episodes of “All-American Muslim,” a TLC reality-TV show, after protests by Christian groups.

The Florida Family Association, a Tampa Bay group, has led a campaign urging companies to pull ads on “All-American Muslim.” The FFA contends that 65 of 67 companies it has targeted have pulled their ads, including Bank of America, the Campbell Soup Co., Dell, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Goodyear, Green Mountain Coffee, McDonalds, Sears, and Wal-Mart.

“’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 Florida group asserts in a letter it asks members to send to TLC advertisers.

“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 the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish,” the FFA’s letter continues.

Given the reference to “protests by Christian groups” in the lede, I hoped to find more detailed information about the Christians involved. However, the only group identified was the Florida Family Association, and the story did not explain that organization’s Christian ties.

On Monday, an Associated Press headline caught my attention on Yahoo! News:

Backlash for Lowe’s as ads pulled from Muslim show

The AP story did not mention the other companies that RNS said pulled their ads from the show. Neither did the AP story use the term “Christian” in describing the Florida association, instead identifying it only as a “conservative group.”

The backlash cited by the AP consisted of a single California state senator calling Lowe’s decision “un-American” and “naked religious bigotry.” AP also quoted a woman whose family is featured on the show and a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations — both of whom expressed disappointment in Lowe’s decision.

Missing from the RNS and AP stories: Any comment — or attempt to seek comment — from the group blamed for Lowe’s decision.

This morning, I Googled to see what else I could uncover on the subject and found a Detroit Free Press report on the “firestorm of criticism” resulting from Lowe’s decision. Again, the Florida group is referenced in the story but not given a voice:

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

The group targets companies that advertise on programs involving Muslims as well as gays and lesbians.

The group boasts on its website that several companies dropped ads from the show because of its pressure. But it’s unclear whether the companies’ decision to pull the ads had anything to do with the Christian group.

Frustrated with the lack of details on the group behind the protest, I kept sniffing around the Internet and discovered a different AP story that actually focuses on the Florida Family Association:

TAMPA, Fla. – 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.

The leader of the Florida Family Association is David Caton, a 55-year-old family values crusader who left an accounting career to found the group in 1987. He said the association has 35,000 members who were urged to email Lowe’s to pressure the home improvement giant into dropping commercials during the TLC cable network show “All-American Muslim.”

Now, I didn’t realize that evangelical Christians were such a homogenous group that they all think alike and are offended by the exact same things. But give AP — the Florida bureau, anyway — credit for at least digging below the surface and trying to put a face on the Florida Family Association.

You can read the full report yourself and decide if the AP gives the group a fair hearing.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • James

    I guess the Florida bureau deserves some credit, but that line “and most anything else that offends evangelical Christians” is what we call where I grew up, just plain tacky, and not journalistic or professional.

  • Stan

    All the television accounts of this story that I have seen use a clip of the head of the Florida Family Association that says the show is dangerous because it challenges our beliefs about Muslims, making us think that they are just like everyone else. I don’t know why the print journalist don’t quote such clips.

  • Bobby

    Agreed, James. That line certainly comes across as offering the reporter’s point of view as opposed to a balanced news report.

  • Mike Hickerson

    The AP story by Mitch Stacy has quite a strong unsourced quote in the 4th paragraph:

    Several politicians called the Florida Family Association a fringe hate group, a title Caton shrugged off, saying the group aims to “defend traditional American biblical values.”

    “Hate group” is a very strong label. If “several politicians” are using that term to describe FFA, then shouldn’t they be named and their actual statements be quoted? By “politicians,” does the writer mean elected public officials? That seems like it would be newsworthy for elected officials to take a strong stance against a conservative “family values” group.

    BTW, I think the Southern Poverty Law Center has gotten a bit loose in its definition of “hate groups,” but they don’t list FFA as a hate group in Florida.

  • Bobby

    Excellent points, Mike.

  • Bobby

    Adweek reports that Lowe’s is in “Facebook Hell”

  • PeterK also pulled there ads from the show

    “”I watched the first two episodes. Mostly, I just thought the show sucked,” he wrote.

    “The first thing I discovered was that TLC was not upfront with us about the nature of this show. As I said, it’s a worthy topic, but any reasonable person would know that this topic is a particular lightning rod. We believe TLC went out of their way to pick a fight on this, and they didn’t let us know their intentions.

    Read more:

  • Mike Hickerson

    Wow. I couldn’t believe that quote above, from KAYAK’s Chief Marketing Officer, no less. He not only said it, but he even put it in writing on their company blog.