In the latter half of 2013 it is not surprising that – when caught – a public company would apologize for using a Jewish symbol as an icon for greed. And that’s just what happened recently. But how much longer will it take before whispering an-after-the-fact, passive apology, which sounds heartfelt if you read it quickly but which, upon examination, appears to be anything but, is no longer acceptable?
First the background.
An online daily discount deals site, LivingSocial, hosted a “7 Deadly Sins Halloween Party” on Oct. 26 in Washington, D.C. The party, held at LivingSocial’s 918 F Street address, had seven different rooms, each representing one of the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.
Dreidels, an iconic symbol for Hanukkah – and for Jews – were placed in the LivingSocial’s party room for greed. There were also gold coins. This room was advertised on the LivingSocial Events page : “In this shimmering room full of silver and gold, we’ll get greedy challenging friends to a plethora of games, all while sipping on a Midas Touch cocktail.”
Someone at the party was not amused. This person’s disappointment was conveyed to Washington Jewish Week senior writer Suzanne Pollack, and the story was then picked up by a (very) few other media outlets.
Not surprisingly, some people expressed their outrage on talkbacks to the few media accounts, while others expressed their own personal versions of anti-Semitism masquerading as “level-headedness” or annoyance with those who complained.
But all the accounts pointed to an apology issued by LivingSocial, and left it at that.
Here’s the apology, dated October 30:
Poor judgment was exhibited this past Saturday when religious holiday symbols were associated in a degrading manner during a Halloween event located at our 918 F Street venue.
This insensitivity was offensive and inconsistent with our values as a company. Let me make this perfectly clear – we do not condone prejudice, nor do we tolerate bigoted or hurtful behavior of any sort. What happened at the event was an embarrassment to us as a company and we are deeply apologetic. We are offering a full refund to anyone who attended the event. Customers who attended the event and wish to be refunded can call our customer service department directly and they will be reimbursed immediately.
We know we let you down. We promise to make it up to you, and demonstrate that LivingSocial is better than this, now, and every day forward.
Tim O’Shaughnessy CEO and Cofounder
Here’s the problem with the apology. Actually, there are several.
APOLOGY HIDDEN ON THE WEBSITE
First, it is almost impossible to find the apology. You can’t find it on the homepage of the LivingSocial website, and you can’t find it by clicking on any of the links on the top of the site. It is only posted on the LivingSocial blog. And you can only find that by scrolling way past all the “deals.” Then, at the very bottom, you have to keep going through the remainder of the categories and at the bottom of the second column, click “blog.”
PASSIVE AND INCONSISTENT APOLOGY: THE COMPANY DID TOLERATE ITS OWN ‘BIGOTED’ AND ‘HURTFUL BEHAVIOR’
But second, and more importantly, the statement of LivingSocial’s CEO doesn’t ring true.
If using the unnamed “religious symbols” in a degrading manner – as O’Shaugnessy admitted “happened” at the LivingSocial’s Oct. 26 Halloween party – is “inconsistent with [LivingSocial's] values,” and was “an embarrassment to [LivingSocial] for which [they] are deeply apologetic,” then how did it happen? It isn’t as if a different company, at a non LivingSocial site used dreidels as a symbol of greed – It was a LivingSocial event at a LivingSocial space.
And why did it take several days and some media attention before the Oct. 30 apology was issued?
Despite the distancing language employed by O’Shaughnessy in the apology attributed to him, “what happened at the event,” when “religious holiday symbols were associated” was not something that just spontaneously occurred. Someone – someone affiliated with LivingSocial – did it.
A LivingSocial employee or agent purchased the dreidels and placed them in the “Greed Room.” And that was at an event to which LivingSocial invited the public, and at which LivingSocial employees and/or agents were present. No one from LivingSocial had any problem linking a Jewish symbol with the sin of greed until some outsider made a fuss about it.
Until someone complained, LivingSocial not only “condone[d] prejudice,” it also “tolerated bigoted” and “hurtful behavior” by using an anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews as greedy.
Those are the words in the apology, above LivingSocial’s CEO and co-founder’s name. Either he did not mean that his company’s use of the dreidel as a symbol of greed is degrading, bigoted and hurtful, as well as an expression of prejudice, in which case the apology is bogus, or the language used in the online (but very hard to find) apology accurately reflects the views of LivingSocial’s head honcho. If that’s so, there should be even more housecleaning at LivingSocial than has been in the news recently.
But what could LivingSocial do about the problem, given that no one from the company present at the Oct. 26 event prevented, or put a stop, to the shame of degrading a religious group?
ENTIRELY PASSIVE APOLOGY/REFUND OFFER, INCONSISTENT WITH BEING ‘DEEPLY APOLOGETIC’
And here’s the third problem with the apology. Even though LivingSocial knows exactly who purchased tickets to its 7 Deadly Sins Halloween Party, and it could have sent out both an apology as well as a refund to everyone who attended, it did not do that.
Instead, only people who happened to read either the few news accounts of LivingSocial’s behavior, or people who happened upon its blog, would know that the company was “deeply apologetic” and was “offering a full refund to anyone who attended the event.”
The Jewish Press contacted LivingSocial in order to determine whether the apology for the Oct. 26 event was sent to all who attended the event, and whether the refund was automatically sent to the attendees. The response came from the MSLGroup, a “strategic communications company,” but it said that the responses could be attributed to Sara Parker of LivingSocial. A Google search revealed that Sara Parker, at least as of Aug. 1, 2013, is the spokesperson for LivingSocial.
Those responses made clear that the apology and refund were only made to a single person whose complaint was brought to the attention of LivingSocial.
But The Jewish Press was able to determine that LivingSocial knows exactly who attended the Oct. 26 event. Its reporter signed up with LivingSocial – the only way to speak with someone in their “customer service department,” which is what the apology instructs Oct. 26 attendees to notify about receiving a refund – a LivingSocial representative was able to tell whether a caller had attended the event or not.
When pressed about whether LivingSocial had remained passive in distributing apologies and refunds or had actively sought out attendees in order to ensure everyone understood that LivingSocial does not “condone” “bigoted and hurtful behavior,” the customer service manager agreed that LivingSocial chose to be passive.
In other words, an apology for using a Jewish symbol to represent one of the seven deadly sins, greed, was made in a way that symbolizes another one of those sins: sloth. And if King Solomon was alive now, no doubt an eighth sin would be included on the list, that of exhibiting religious or racial insensitivity.
Sloth and insensitivity, maybe 2014 will be less hospitable to both.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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