More Blackface Bias and Insensitivity in the Fashion Industry

This month a Gucci black turtleneck sweater was condemned on social media, as was a Prada blackface-looking ornament. Katy Perry blackface-like shoes are being pulled.Vogue misidentified journalist Noor Tagouri, and now Vogue Brazil is apologizing for an offensive racial photo.

Yahoo News and TMZ are reporting that Katy Perry is removing shoes from her footwear collection because shoppers complained that one style resembled blackface.

The $129 shoes no longer will be sold.

Yahoo included a statement from Perry and her company:

“The Rue and The Ora were part of a collection that was released last summer in 9 different colorways (black, blue, gold, graphite, lead, nude, pink, red, silver) and envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism. I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from Katy Perry Collections.”

As if to make matters worse in the fashion world, Vogue Brazil has been accused of a race-based insensitive photo showing style director Donata Meirelles celebrating her birthday on a throne alongside black women in traditional dress, CNN has reported.

Journalist Fabio Bernardo posted this photo of Meirelles, sparking more outrage about inherent bias in the fashion industry.

According to CNN, Vogue Brazil apologized “profusely for what happened and hopes that the discussions generated have served as a learning opportunity.” The company plans to create a forum to help identify biased and exclusionary content.

These were the latest in a string of apologies in the fashion world.

Social media erupted upon seeing an $848 sweater resembling blackface, prompting Gucci to pull the product from its catalog and online and physical stores.

Film producer Tariq Nasheed tweeted …

In covering the story, the New York Times recounted a series of stereotypical blunders in the fashion world.

Dolce & Gabbana was excoriated for advertisements laden with stereotypes about Chinese people. Zara has featured a skirt with a character like Pepe the Frog, a figure embraced by far-right groups. Prada adorned bags with charms, part of a line of goods called Pradamalia, that resembled black monkeys with outsize red lips. And the Swedish company H&M dressed a young black male model in a hoodie with the phrase “coolest monkey in the jungle,” setting off protests at South African stores.

Prada also tweeted an apology about its blackface-looking ornament with a statement that read, in part, “The resemblance of the products to blackface was by no means intentional, but we recognise that this does not excuse the damage they have caused.”

The company’s statement also noted that it would create an Advisory Council to guide its efforts pertaining to diversity, inclusion and culture. In addition, it would donate proceeds from its ornament to an organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice.

That apology was better than the one Vogue issued after misidentifying Libyan-American journalist Noor Tagouri , 24, with Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36.

Living Media Ethics covered the incident earlier this month in a post titled, “In Vogue: Journalist Tagouri Misidentified as Pakistani Actress.” The magazine issued this apology:

Its apology lacked two of seven basic ethical components of a correction, as described in Living Media Ethics:

  • Identify the error (what it was, when/where it occurred).
  • Correct the record.
  • Do so as soon as possible.
  • Do so prominently.
  • Provide an explanation to the audience or clientele.
  • Disclose how the error could have been avoided and/or how it will be prevented in the future.
  • Issue an apology to those damaged by the false disclosure.

In attempting to address the cultural problem of such a mistake, the magazine stated: “We also understand there is a larger issue of misidentification in media–especially among nonwhite subjects [emphasis added].”

Some viewers on social media criticized the use of the term “nonwhite,” wondering why the magazine didn’t simply say “people of color.”

Living Media Ethics dedicates a chapter to correcting bias and stereotypes, noting consequences for content and products that offend others. Here’s an excerpt:

Mistakes. Your report, photograph, advertisement, illustration or campaign will contain misconceptions and inaccuracies tarnishing your own and/or your company’s reputation.

Substandard quality. Your misconceptions and inaccuracies may cause your story or campaign to fall short of expectations, costing your outlet subscribers, patrons or contracts.

Professional embarrassment. When your work is deemed racist, you become the focus of media attention and implicate your employer and coworkers by association.

Personal liability. When your work contains race-related misconceptions and/or inaccuracies—such as believing allegations made by sources or over-billing or shunning clients because of their ethnic heritage—you or your firm can be sued, depending on factors involved in each case.

Undermined morality. Even if your work succeeds, appealing to prurient interests who embrace stereotypes, you contribute messages to society that cause other people pain, suffering and humiliation.

Unanticipated disturbances. The pain, suffering and humiliation caused by your report, photograph, illustration, advertisement or campaign can lead to protests against your employer or boycotts against your product or client.

Let’s hope the fashion industry and media that cover it are more sensitive to the issue of stereotypes–not only in Black History Month–but throughout the year, every year.

Bezos accuses the National Enquirer of extortion

This story is complicated, so Living Media Ethics breaks it down to fathom why the world’s richest man–Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post–claims he is being blackmailed by the National Enquirer. As far as journalism is concerned, there’s one small positive outcome in this sad, sordid affair.

Above video by CBS Evening News posted on YouTube

In early January, Bezos was informed that the National Enquirer would be publishing a story replete with intimate text messages about an extramarital affair he was having with television anchor Lauren Sanchez.

Two days later, Bezos announced that he and his spouse of 25 years, MacKenzie, would be divorcing.

Bezos hired security expert Gavin de Becker to discover how the Enquirer obtained those text messages.

The Post then ran a story titled “Was tabloid exposé of Bezos affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job?” quoting de Becker who suggested that the Enquirer story was a “’politically motivated’ leak meant to embarrass the owner of The Post — an effort potentially involving several important figures in Trump’s 2016 campaign.”

David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., parent company of the Enquirer,  is a friend of President Trump.  According to The Washington Post, Pecker has repeatedly attacked the newspaper as fake news and reportedly directed the Enquirer “to write favorable stories about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, while paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to suppress her claim of a long-running affair with Trump.”

Here’s where the story implodes.

In a long and at times embarrassing post, Bezos details how the tabloid purports to have salacious photos of him and Ms. Sanchez. He alleges that a top editor at the Enquirer threatened to publish those photos unless Bezos directed The Post to write a story stating that he and de Becker, “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

Rather than agree to that, Bezos wrote: “The Post is a critical institution with a critical mission. My stewardship of The Post and my support of its mission, which will remain unswerving, is something I will be most proud of when I’m 90 and reviewing my life, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, regardless of any complexities it creates for me.”

Bezos added:

“Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here.”

And that’s the hook. Is The Post investigation honing on a politically motivated “hit job” and, if so, by whom?

The answer to that, at the moment, is nobody knows until somebody does, and when that happens, news will go viral.

Here is what we do know. Bezos did not use The Post as a mouthpiece to save himself devastatingly bad publicity sure to upset stockholders of Amazon and his other holdings. And that, as far as Living Media Ethics can see at the moment, is about the only good that has come out of this sordid journalism episode.

UPDATE: Fashion Under Fire: More Apologies from Vogue, Prada et. al.

The fashion world has been apologing about insensitivity for the past month. A Gucci black turtleneck sweater with red-mouth feature, appearing to be lips, was condemned on social media, as was a Prada blackface-looking ornament. Vogue misidentified journalist Noor Tagouri. Now Vogue Brazil is apologizing for an offensive photo featuring its style editor.

Vogue Brazil has been accused of a race-based insensitive photo showing style director Donata Meirelles celebrating her birthday on a throne alongside black women in traditional dress, CNN has reported.

Journalist Fabio Bernardo posted this photo of Meirelles, sparking more outrage about inherent bias in the fashion industry.

According to CNN, Vogue Brazil apologized “profusely for what happened and hopes that the discussions generated have served as a learning opportunity.” The company plans to create a forum to help identify biased and exclusionary content.

This was the latest in a string of apologies in the fashion world.

Social media erupted upon seeing an $848 sweater resembling blackface, prompting Gucci to pull the product from its catalog and online and physical stores.

Film producer Tariq Nasheed tweeted …

In covering the story, the New York Times recounted a series of stereotypical blunders in the fashion world.

Dolce & Gabbana was excoriated for advertisements laden with stereotypes about Chinese people. Zara has featured a skirt with a character like Pepe the Frog, a figure embraced by far-right groups. Prada adorned bags with charms, part of a line of goods called Pradamalia, that resembled black monkeys with outsize red lips. And the Swedish company H&M dressed a young black male model in a hoodie with the phrase “coolest monkey in the jungle,” setting off protests at South African stores.

Here’s a comparison of the Gucci sweater and Pradamalia ornament.

Prada also tweeted an apology with a statement that read, in part, “The resemblance of the products to blackface was by no means intentional, but we recognise that this does not excuse the damage they have caused.”

The company’s statement also noted that it would create an Advisory Council to guide its efforts pertaining to diversity, inclusion and culture. In addition, it would donate proceeds from its ornament to an organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice.

That apology was better than the one Vogue issued after misidentifying Libyan-American journalist Noor Tagouri , 24, with Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36.

Living Media Ethics covered the incident earlier this month in a post titled, “In Vogue: Journalist Tagouri Misidentified as Pakistani Actress.” The magazine issued this apology:

Its apology lacked two of seven basic ethical components of a correction, as described in Living Media Ethics:

  • Identify the error (what it was, when/where it occurred).
  • Correct the record.
  • Do so as soon as possible.
  • Do so prominently.
  • Provide an explanation to the audience or clientele.
  • Disclose how the error could have been avoided and/or how it will be prevented in the future.
  • Issue an apology to those damaged by the false disclosure.

In attempting to address the cultural problem of such a mistake, the magazine stated: “We also understand there is a larger issue of misidentification in media–especially among nonwhite subjects [emphasis added].”

Some viewers on social media criticized the use of the term “nonwhite,” wondering why the magazine didn’t simply say “people of color.”

Living Media Ethics dedicates a chapter to correcting bias and stereotypes, noting consequences for content and products that offend others. Here’s an excerpt:

Mistakes. Your report, photograph, advertisement, illustration or campaign will contain misconceptions and inaccuracies tarnishing your own and/or your company’s reputation.

Substandard quality. Your misconceptions and inaccuracies may cause your story or campaign to fall short of expectations, costing your outlet subscribers, patrons or contracts.

Professional embarrassment. When your work is deemed racist, you become the focus of media attention and implicate your employer and coworkers by association.

Personal liability. When your work contains race-related misconceptions and/or inaccuracies—such as believing allegations made by sources or over-billing or shunning clients because of their ethnic heritage—you or your firm can be sued, depending on factors involved in each case.

Undermined morality. Even if your work succeeds, appealing to prurient interests who embrace stereotypes, you contribute messages to society that cause other people pain, suffering and humiliation.

Unanticipated disturbances. The pain, suffering and humiliation caused by your report, photograph, illustration, advertisement or campaign can lead to protests against your employer or boycotts against your product or client.

Let’s hope the fashion industry and media that cover it are more sensitive to the issue of stereotypes–not only in Black History Month–but throughout the year, every year.

Elizabeth Warren’s Signature: Power of Open Records and False Claims

The Washington Post used an open records request to obtain Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s registration card for the State Bar of Texas, publishing the card with her signature showing she identified herself as American Indian.

In an article titled “Elizabeth Warren apologizes for calling herself Native American,” the Washington Post reported that the senator apologized for identifying as a member if the Cherokee Nation.

The report came in the wake of a recent apology to Bill John Baker, chief of the Cherokee Nation, expressing her regret for sharing results of a DNA test showing she had a distant American Indian relative.

She told the Post: “I can’t go back. But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”

Here’s a video about the latest report.

This post is not about the embarrassing, hurtful claim; that’s evident in assuming an identity that is not genuine. Rather, this shows the power of fact-based journalism in using open records to verify false claims and hold public figures accountable.

Living Media Ethics (Routledge 2019) has a section dedicated to the Freedom of Information Act. Here’s an excerpt.

One of the “power tools” for journalists is the Freedom of Information Act, signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. Government entities often resist FOIA requests for information “by either refusing to provide properly requested records or ignoring the requirements that the documents be made available within specified time periods,”[1] according to the FOIA Project, funded in part by Syracuse University. If a FOIA request is denied, the Freedom of Information Act allows reporters and news organizations to sue. The New York Times filed some 36 federal FOIA lawsuits in the past 16 years. David McCraw, The Times’ vice president and assistant general counsel, states: “Simply, we feel that using this law is an essential part of our mission.”[2] 

Use of FOIA requests attests to the ethics of fact-based journalism as practiced routinely by news organizations like the Washington Post and New York Times.

The U.S. Department of Justice explains on its website and in the video below how to file such a request.

A FOIA request can be made for any agency record; moreover, you can specify the format that you prefer to receive the record, printed or electronic.


 

[1] “About the Freedom of Information Act,” FOIA Project, no date, http://foiaproject.org/about/aboutfoia/

[2] Ibid.

 

Crisis without Management: Virginia Gov’s Disastrous News Conference

A stoic spouse alongside a public figure accused of impropriety typically is perceived as an act of loyalty and faith in her partner’s ability to transcend circumstance. In this case, Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam acted as crisis manager. The governor could have used one.

Some politicians believe they can master the message better than practitioners who excel in reputation management or media ethicists who know the right thing to do during crisis management.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tried to restore his reputation in an impromptu news conference following disclosure of a 1984 yearbook photo showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan headdress.

At first Northam acknowledged that he was one of the two figures in the photo. Then he called a news conference in which he walked back that acknowledgement, stating he wasn’t in the photo. He would have remembered that, he said–and here is where he imploded in front of media–because he used shoe polish in a dance competition in which he impersonated Michael Jackson.

It gets worse.

When a reporter asked if he could still moon walk, the governor appeared ready to do just that. Fortunately, his wife Pamela Northam–an educator and environmentalist–intervened, informing him that such a display would be inappropriate, given the circumstances.

A long list of politicians and public figures have called for Northam’s resignation. The governor said won’t resign and can repair the damage, even though he violated just about every tenet of effective crisis management.

Living Media Ethics contains a chapter discussing proactive public relations during crisis management.

The Forbes Agency Council also has published golden rules of crisis management, proposing steps to take during professional, personal or political upheavals. Among them are:

  • Take Responsibility: “First off, don’t try to cover up the PR crisis, it will only worsen the damage.”
  • Be Proactive, Be Transparent, Be Accountable: Acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, and apologize.
  • Get Ahead Of The Story: Apologize quickly and concisely using social media and other venues and then retreat to figure out strategy.
  • First Apologize, Then Take Action: Do something substantial to show you are changing and moving forward ethically.
  • Monitor, Plan And Communicate: Never “go rogue and potentially fuel the flames.”
  • Listen To Your Team First:  “Don’t comment, post or tweet before you’ve conferred with your PR team on what the best, most reasoned approach will be.”
  • Turn Off The Fan: “Don’t fuel the fire.” Step back, put yourself in your constituent’s shoes. Ask, “How would I feel if this happened to me? Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with crisis situations. It ensures we do the right thing. And right beats spin every time.”
  • Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions: “Be sure that the first external communication following the crisis is a well-thought-out response.”

Northam refused to take responsibility or be accountable.  While he apologized immediately after the photos were publicized, he deepened the crisis by retracting that acknowledgement, saying he wasn’t in the photo and blaming the yearbook’s editing staff for putting the racist depiction on his page. Then he went rogue in a 40-minute news conference that fueled the fire, admitting he did do blackface in the same year as the yearbook photo was taken.

The inept disclosures indicated he lacked more than a PR crisis management team and a strategic response. He appeared to lack a conscience ready to accept consequences for his actions.

By violating basic tenets of effective public relations, Northam failed to look in the mirror to see how his past and present actions harmed others; instead, he looked into a future that included his resignation and didn’t like what he saw.

After the news conference debacle, the governor only has a few more steps to take: He should resign and then go about salvaging what is left of his reputation by meeting with groups and constituents he offended. He also should work in transition with Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would become acting governor if Northam were to resign.

If that happened, Fairfax would be the state’s second African-American governor. That outcome would be best for everyone involved.

Iowa State alumnus and former BuzzFeed writer discusses layoffs

Digital advertising increasingly is going to mega-tech companies like Google and Facebook, causing a ripple effect in fact-based journalism, with hundreds laid off last week. In this post, Tyler Kingkade–recently let-go BuzzFeed writer–has an optimistic outlook about the future of journalism.

A New York Times op-ed, “Why the Latest Layoffs Are Devastating to Democracy,” discusses recent layoffs across media platforms, including two hundred staff and journalists at BuzzFeed as well as 800 from Yahoo, Huffington Post, TechCrunch and other outlets. Gannett reportedly is letting go an additional 400.

According to the piece, a chief concern involves digital advertising going to media monopolies such as Google and Facebook:

The cause of each company’s troubles may be distinct, but collectively the blood bath points to the same underlying market pathology: the inability of the digital advertising business to make much meaningful room for anyone but monopolistic tech giants. The cause of each company’s troubles may be distinct, but collectively the blood bath points to the same underlying market pathology: the inability of the digital advertising business to make much meaningful room for anyone but monopolistic tech giants.

Tyler Kingkade, an outstanding alumnus from Iowa State’s journalism school, who worked for the Huffington Post and most recently BuzzFeed, was one of the employees who received a pink slip.

He sent this message to media ethics and tech/social change classes at his alma mater:

“It’s admittedly concerning if BuzzFeed had to downsize. Particularly in our News division, they laid off reporters who were in the process of turning our work into documentaries, which was a new avenue of making money. However, the ones laid off have gotten a lot of people flagging job openings for us, or asking to meet about giving us jobs. Even the LA Times, which has reduced its staff, is now building back up. The Seattle Times oddly enough is on a hiring spree.

“Journalism is a field that does not grow – there is never going to be a boom time for us. But I don’t believe it will ever dry up. People will figure out a stable model, whether it’s through selling story rights to be TV shows and movies (see Dirty John for a recent example) or subscription or a nonprofit donor model like ProPublica. I bet there will soon be something that gives you a bundle of subscriptions, in the same way that Spotify got people to finally stop illegally downloading music and pay for it again.

“The currents against you in media will always be strong; young journalists will just need to learn how to be strong enough to swim against it.”

Kingkade, based in New York, focuses on covering civil rights, crime, sexual harassment and assault, and the treatment of teens in vulnerable and traumatic situations. His work has earned multiple awards, recognition from national nonprofits, pushed companies and prosecutors to take action, and caused inquiries by universities and lawmakers. Most recently he was a National Reporter at BuzzFeed News in New York … and is currently looking for his next assignment.

Foxconn Reconsiders $10 Billion Project

Any time legislators give tax incentives to corporations, they must inquire about artificial intelligence and negotiate iron-clad deals. Journalists also have an obligation to research companies’ past histories with robotics.

Interpersonal Divide posted about Foxconn’s planned Wisconsin plant in July 2017, proclaiming “Say Hi to C-3PO.” At the time few politicians mentioned how Foxconn replaces workers with robots.

Foxconn’s use of artificial intelligence was covered in Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine:

In 2016, Foxconn Technology Group, an Apple and Samsung supplier in China, replaced 60,000 workers with robots. If any country should be concerned about automation, China might top that list with its population of 1.35 billion people. In reporting the mass firing—a population larger than Pensacola, Florida—the British Broadcasting Company noted that economists “have issued dire warnings about how automation will affect the job market, with one report, from consultants Deloitte in partnership with Oxford University, suggesting that 35% of jobs were at risk over the next 20 years.” See: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966

Earlier plans to build the Wisconsin plant promised jobs to thousands of blue-collar workers making LCD screens. That changed this week. Reuters reports that Foxconn Technology Group “said it intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised.”

The British wire service also reported that Foxconn’s “technology hub” in Wisconsin “would largely consist of research facilities along with packaging and assembly operations.”  The report quoted a company spokesperson: “In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory. You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment.”

As companies ask states for tax incentives to build plants, promising thousands of jobs for local residents, legislators have a responsibility to make iron-clad deals. This remains an essential discussion as the state of Wisconsin may be paying as much as $2 billion in incentives, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune was one of the few U.S. newspapers to cite the mass firing of Foxconn workers in China to increase profit by replacing them with robots.

Any time a new plant is announced, involving tax incentives, journalists need to monitor how robotics are going to be used.

Interpersonal Divide warns that artificial intelligence and robotics are going to replace jobs across the manufacturing sector: “Two-thirds of Americans believe that robots will do much of the work currently being done by people, according to the Pew Research Center; however, 80 percent of respondents believe that their own jobs and professions will be largely unaffected.”

The only way to know in advance is to put companies on record concerning artificial intelligence and negotiate contracts that companies like Foxconn have to honor.