During a discussion on Monday's NBC Today of internet reaction to a controversial new Cheerios commercial, lawyer and regular pundit Star Jones alleged that “social media is the new kind of Ku Klux Klan white hood; it allows you to be anonymous and say the things you would never say to a person to their face.”
The comment was made while the panel, which also included attorney Donny Deutsch and hosts Willie Geist and Samantha Guthrie, was discussing a few incendiary and racist statements that were made in the comment section of a new Cheerios commercial posted on YouTube. However, the commercial drew such comments because it featured “a white mom, biracial child, and an African-American dad.”
This is not the first time that she has made such a reference to equate anonymous commenters to the terrible white supremacist group; she made similar comments earlier this year while participating in a Today panel to discuss whether websites should disallow anonymous comments to cut down on offensive language. [Link to the article here]
The statements, which have been removed by General Mills, were deplorable, and the racism which they espoused should not be tolerated. That being said, that does not give Star Jones or anyone else in the media license to compare commenting on internet video to the actions of the Ku Klux Klan. To employ such a comparison suggests that the two groups have much more in common than simply anonymity, which is simply not the case.
The commenters were just a few cowardly remnant racists who posted their fringe opinions online. The KKK was a group of millions who believed in the ultimate superiority of whites and used terrorism like beatings and lynchings to intimidate their targets into submission. To imply a measure of congruence between these two groups is incredibly inappropriate as they are not similar in almost every way.
Furthermore, stories such as this do not even need to be covered by the media. By covering this and similar stories, national media outlets perpetuate racism in America instead of eliminating it, which should be their goal. Guthrie even questioned the coverage by saying that it might be “giving a voice to this few people,” whereas, without the coverage, few if any people would have known about these racist comments. Interestingly, given her previous comments, Jones then completely ignored Guthrie’s observation.
For reference, the transcript of the discussion is provided below:
June 3, 2013
WILLIE GEIST: Another story turning here. A new commercial from cheerios drawing a lot of attention, features a mixed race family, and that's led to some negative comments online.
COMMERCIAL CHILD: Mom?
COMMERCIAL MOM: Yes, honey?
COMMERCIAL CHILD: Dad told me Cheerios is good for your heart. Is that true?
REPORTER: This commercial, with a white mom, biracial child, and an African-American dad, produced so many racist remarks last week. The online bigotry offended many Americans.
MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS: Gross, outrageous stuff and the kind of stuff that's rooted in unfair stereotypes of black people really.
REPORTER: The maker of Cheerios, General Mills, found some of the reaction so offensive it disabled all YouTube comments about its commercial.
CAMILLE GIBSON: The comments that were made in our view were not family-friendly, and that was really the trigger for us to pull them off.
REPORTER: How could a commercial about a little girl who puts cheerios on her daddy's chest insight hate? And, while there may be a mixed race president, on television over the years, interracial families rarely have been seen.
GIBSON: Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family, and there are lots of multicultural families in America today.
REPORTER: General Mills says it will not pull the ad due to any controversy, and Meagan, who ate cheerios at a very young age, is grateful the company has taken a stand.
HATCHER-MAYS: I think this commercial is a really big step for interracial families. The commercial represents that we exist.
WILLIE GEIST: And here to weigh in Star Jones and attorney and former prosecutor and Donny Deutsch, chairman of Deutsch Inc. Good morning to you both. Star, let me start with you. Should we be surprised by this reaction? If you look at the comment section on anything on the web, you’re going to find ugliness and hatred; those are some of the darkest places online. Are you surprised by the reaction of this ad?
STAR JONES: I'm not surprised at the reaction because social media is the new kind of Ku Klux Klan white hood; it allows you to be anonymous and say the things you would never say to a person to their face. But a lot of this is generational also. People in my generation are still stuck in giving the side eye to an interracial couple. I think younger people have gotten used to seeing black and white, and Latin and black, and Latin and white. That's not going to be an issue in years to come.
SAMANTHA GUTHRIE: Donny, you’re an advertiser. I should say, your company did an interracial couple in an ad 20 years ago.
DONNY DEUTSCH: 20 years ago.
GEIST: But you still think this is somewhat unusual for Madison Avenue, why?
DEUTSCH: What's unfortunate is that I still think 97% of companies would stay away from this because they'd say, I don't need the letters, which is a shame because In reality when do you an ad like this, yes there will be some fringe crazy people that go “oh!” And fringe crazy people go crazy about everything, but in reality you're making a statement about your company. We're progressive; we're inclusive. We are about today, and great advertising holds up a mirror to who we are and where we're going. The shame is, once again, I did an ad with a biracial couple for IKEA 20 years ago. We see it in TV; we see it in movies, but advertising’s still very late to the game. My challenge to advertisers out there, get where the country is going.
GEIST: I was struck watching this, didn't strike me, we talked about the generational thing, but how infrequently we do see interracial couples in any advertising.
JONES: You know what, think about it. We are in a post racial environment with a black president, and we are cohesive as a family here at the Today Show but a lot of people still see black and white, and they like to bring out the dirty and the nasty. I'm glad we're having this conversation.
DEUTSCH: There's an interesting point. Advertisers have one objective: to make money for their shareholders. Within reality, there's 1% that are interracial couples that's probably what the representation should be. So, we can't overreact because once again their job is to sell product. This is a smart way to sell product. And that’s why we’re doing it.
GUTHRIE: Are we somehow kind of giving voice to this few people that go on anonymous comment sections and say this kind of thing by highlighting it like this?
JONES: We're also giving voice to the fact its heart healthy, and you know that makes me happy.
GUTHRIE: Oh, Star, okay, bringing her own agenda item at the end.
GEIST: Donny, doesn't an advertiser have a responsibility to push the conversation forward? In other words you're not held accountable to that 1%.
DEUTSCH: Your responsibility is to do what's right for your brand, and for cheerios this is right. There may be some brands, there may be some real mainstream… If I'm selling Quaker oats, I'm probably not doing that. That doesn’t mean… I love this ad, and I salute cheerios and get smart; more advertisers need to do it.
GUTHRIE: Good conversation to have. Star and Donny, thank you as always.