Reality TV catches up to reality with Muslim show


Nawal Aoude, a pediatric respiratory therapist, left, and her husband, Nader, go for a walk in a scene from the TLC series, "All-American Muslim." (Adam Rose/AP)
December 12, 2011

Among the themes of “All-American Muslim,” a cable reality show about the daily lives of five families in Dearborn, Mich., is the suspicion and bias that ordinary Muslims face in a nation uneasy about all things Islamic after Sept. 11, 2001.

As it happens, reality has caught up to reality TV.

Peppered by a conservative group’s complaints about the program, the Lowe’s home-improvement chain last week pulled its sponsorship — and has been fielding countercomplaints that the company had caved in to the very prejudices faced by the program’s protagonists.

After “All-American Muslim” debuted last month on the Silver Spring-based TLC network, a group called the Florida Family Association asked its members to target the show’s advertisers. The organization, ironically, was peeved by the program’s generally positive portrayals of Muslims in America. The Florida group branded the series “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

Its complaints were echoed by several prominent conservative bloggers, including Pamela Geller, who was instrumental in leading the opposition to an Islamic community center and mosque near the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Lowe’s took heed, yanking its ads and issuing a statement that said, in part, that the program had become “a lightning rod” for individuals and groups with “strong political and social views on this topic.” It added: “We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

Muslim groups and advocates for Muslims condemned Lowe’s decision.

“Corporate America needs to take a stand against these anti-Muslim fringe groups and stand up for what is right because this is what it means to be an American,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim American elected to Congress.

Rap mogul Russell Simmons and a California state senator, Ted Lieu (D), have counter-complained. Simmons suggested a boycott but stopped short of calling for one if Lowe’s didn’t reverse its position, and he announced he has purchased the remaining commercial spots on the show next week. Lieu told the Associated Press that he was considering legislation to compel the chain to restore its advertising.

The Tampa-based Florida Family Association, a Christian evangelical group that says it promotes “traditional, biblical values,” said it has persuaded 65 advertisers to abandon the program.

The organization’s campaign is reminiscent of other interest-group protests that have driven advertisers from programs that the groups found objectionable, including Glenn Beck’s talk show on Fox, and MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and “Skins.”

Anti-Islamic sentiment also has fueled opposition to Campbell’s Soup and Whole Foods Market over their plans to market halal foods — foods prepared according to Islamic dietary law. It also may have slowed the cable and satellite distribution in the United States of TV channels produced by al-Jazeera, the government-owned news organization based in Doha, Qatar.

On the other hand, the controversy over “All-American Muslim” has generated so much attention — the broadcast networks’ morning shows all aired segments on it Monday — that it may spike viewership of the program. The eight-episode show has averaged around 1 million viewers, a modest figure, since its mid-November debut.

A spokeswoman for TLC, which is owned by Discovery Communications, offered a terse statement Monday: “We stand behind the show ‘All-American Muslim’ and we’re happy the show has strong advertising support.” The spokeswoman, Laurie Goldberg, did not comment on the Florida group’s claims that other advertisers have pulled out of the show.

Critics have been generally lukewarm about the program. The Washington Post’s TV critic, Hank Stuever, called the series “assiduously straightforward and careful . . . mainly an act of public relations, going out of its way to avoid becoming ‘The Real Housewives of Dearborn.’ ”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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