The Florida Family Association (FFA), whose website states its mission as to "educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values," mounted a campaign to convince corporate advertisers to stop advertising on TLC's reality show "All-American Muslim." Lowe's and kayak.com were the only advertisers—out of 65 that FFA targeted—that caved in, according to numerous news sources.
On its website, FFA charges that "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."
After pulling its advertising, Lowe's remained silent for several days as public outrage regarding its decision increased. Lowe's then publicly explained its decision in a Facebook post on Saturday, saying: "Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting [sic] rod for many of those views … We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance."
Unfortunately for Lowe's, the equivocating Facebook comment received more than 28,000 comments—most of them bigoted, anti-Muslim statements or statements supporting the show.
Shortly after Lowe's posted its original Facebook comment and allowed the hateful responses to remain on its Facebook page, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked the company to address the furor and to have a meeting with CAIR leaders. Lowe's did not respond.
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's national communications director, said in a statement: "If Lowe's was concerned about spreading hate speech, you would think that they would filter and delete the worst [comments]. It's hard to tell if leaving them up is intentional or not." CAIR first sent Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock a letter Monday, noting the "tremendous controversy" that has been caused by its decisions.
Lowe's finally took down the offensive comments Wednesday and promised to monitor its page more. Lowe's posted this apology: "We wanted to get back to you about our last post and the comments that followed. For several days, our Facebook page has become a forum of debate surrounding a TLC program—and to let us know how you feel. Many of the comments are specifically about Lowe's advertising decision … many more are about broader political and social issues. Some of the comments have been sharp and disrespectful in tone, but out of respect for the transparency of social media, we let the debate continue. However, we have seen a large volume of comments become more pointed and hateful. As a result, we have taken the step of removing all previous posts and will more tightly filter future comments on this topic. You will be able to respond to this post, but in the spirit of social media, please keep your comments on this Facebook page respectful. We appreciate your understanding. Again, we offer our sincere apology to anyone offended by our advertising business decision or posts on this page."
As of Thursday morning, more than 4,000 new comments were posted, the majority of them offensive to Muslims.
What Went Wrong?
Lowe's claims a commitment to diversity and inclusion, stating: "We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we're proud of that longstanding commitment." This must be viewed in light of what we can find on its website.
There is no mention of diversity on the Lowe's homepage, and a search for "diversity" yields no results. Clicking on the "About Lowe's" link on the homepage returns no information on diversity, and "diversity" does not appear in the corporate-citizenship, corporate-overview or media areas of their website. A search for the word "diversity" in that area also returns no responses. In the careers area, there are three paragraphs describing a "commitment" to diversity in the broadest and least specific ways. No goals, including any on supplier diversity, are mentioned, and there is no quote about diversity from their CEO.
Lowe's has not participated in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey in the past nine years.
When asked for comment, Lowe's responded to DiversityInc similarly to what it stated on Facebook. Additionally, Lowe's said: "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 December 5." DiversityInc cannot find evidence of "dozens of companies" canceling advertising.
In our opinion, by having no demonstrable understanding of diversity management practices and no stated clarity on its own values, Lowe's was incapable of making good decisions. By bending to a hate group (the Florida Family Association), Lowe's became their ally. It's very difficult to escape repercussions of that kind of association, as Lowe's learned when allied haters posted thousands of hate-filled comments on its Facebook page. In a misguided attempt to "respect the transparency of social media," it abdicated its moral responsibility and offended millions of people—both Muslim and non-Muslim.
DiversityInc has two resources that lend clarity to this situation: DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti's column "Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What Happens When It Goes Horribly Wrong" and a recent DiversityInc panel with two leading experts, "Muslims & Stereotypes: Do They Really Hate Us?"
What are others saying?
Many commentators, civil-rights groups and elected officials also are urging Lowe's to take more action. Here is what they are saying:
The first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, condemns Lowe's for caving to anti-Muslim groups in this Chicago Tribune story.
Rep. John Conyers, who represents the Dearborn community where the series is filmed, expresses his disappointment in Lowe's.
CAIR's director tells Channel 9 News Now that Lowe's decision to pull advertising makes way for Muslim hatred to grow among Americans.
Buzzfeed.com provides examples of the absurd bigotry that plagued comments on Lowe's original Facebook post.
MuslimMatters.org reports on the creation of the #LowesHatesMuslims hashtag on Twitter and ongoing commentary against Lowe's decision on Twitter.
This is an online petition form to tell Lowe's CEO to reinstate the ads on "All-American Muslim."
Adweek reports on the Facebook controversy, providing a handful of examples of the anti-Muslim comments.
An online opinion column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discusses Americans' "cultural amnesia" toward Muslims and their contributions to modern society.
Metrotimes' blog post discusses how the hip-hop mogul bought up Lowe's space and is calling for a boycott of the company.
A Facebook event is being held to rally Lowe's protesters Sunday in one Maryland town.
The Los Angeles Times reports that California Sen. Ted Lieu urged Lowe's to reverse its "bigoted" and "un-American" decision and actress Mia Farrow urged a boycott of Lowe's via Twitter.