NEW YORK (AP) — Home improvement chain Lowe’s plans to stick by its decision to yank its ads from a reality TV show about American Muslims amid growing debate over the move.
California Sen. Ted Lieu said Sunday that he is considering calling for a boycott of Lowe’s Cos., sparking criticism of the chain from both inside and outside of the Muslim community.
On social media web site Twitter, actor Kal Penn began directing people to a petition on signon.org in support of the TLC cable network show, “All-American Muslim.” By Monday afternoon, there were about 9,200 signatures.
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is Muslim, released a statement Monday condemning Lowe’s for choosing “to uphold the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of the First Amendment.”
And Democratic state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, the first Muslim elected to the Michigan Legislature, voiced her concern in a letter to Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock.
“I told them I was extremely disappointed that you give credibility to these hate groups,” Tlaib said. “People of Muslim faith are being attacked. It’s disappointing, disheartening.”
Lowe’s, based in Mooresville, N.C., said it stands by its statement on Sunday that it pulled the ads after the show became a “lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives — political, social and otherwise.”
“All-American Muslim,” which premiered last month, chronicles the lives of five families who live in and near Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim and Arab-American population. It airs Sundays on TLC and ends its first season Jan. 8.
TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said the show has garnered a little over a million viewers per week.
“We stand behind the show ‘All-American Muslim,'” she said. “We’re happy the show has strong advertising support.”
Lowe’s stopped its commercials after a conservative group known as the Florida Family Association emailed companies to ask them to do so. The group said the program is “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
Florida Family Association, based in Tampa, Fla., said that more than 60 companies that it emailed, from Amazon to McDonalds, pulled their ads. So far, Lowe’s is the only major company to confirm that it pulled ads from the show.
Amazon, McDonald’s and other advertisers did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Atlanta-based Home Depot, which was cited by Florida Family Association as a company that stopped advertising, said Monday that it never intended to run any ads during the show. But spokesman Stephen Holmes said one commercial ran “inadvertently and without our knowledge.”
The controversy highlights the fine line companies walk when they select shows to advertise on.
Branding expert Laura Ries said Lowe’s made two mistakes. The first was advertising during a show that could be construed as controversial. The second was pulling advertising too quickly.
“For a big national brand like Lowe’s, they’ve always got to be incredibly careful when advertising during any show that could be deemed controversial,” she said. “Will it seriously damage the brand in the long term? Probably not. But it is a serious punch in the stomach.”
Overall, analysts said the furor is unlikely to damage Lowe’s brand in the long term.
“For a company that generates $50 billion in annual revenue, I don’t view this as something that will have a meaningful impact,” said Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom. “I’m hopeful this blows over and I’m certain management is as well.”
Still, some worry Lowe’s ad flap could hurt Muslims, particularly those among the 150,000 to 200,000 who live in the Detroit area. Earlier this year, Florida pastor Terry Jones held an anti-Islam rally outside Dearborn City Hall after being barred from protesting outside a Muslim mosque in the city.
The burning of a Quran in March at Jones’ church in Florida led to a series of violent protests in Afghanistan that killed more than a dozen people.
“Metro Detroit and Dearborn have been the focal point of a number of anti-Muslim movements,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter. “There are organized forces in our society that want to marginalize American Muslims to the point where they don’t want to see any portrayals of Muslims that regular Americans can connect to.”
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