Do you remember the story about the Facebook backlash that forced a church in Germany to relax its rules on a child's gravestone? I thought that was an interesting study in how social media has become such a massive force capable of pressuring organizations into righting perceived wrongs, and as it turns out, something similar has happened this week with CBS and The Amazing Race.
The Emmy-winning reality series was under fire for last week's episode, which featured a B-52 memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam that depicts a downed American plane from the Vietnam War. The show didn't bother to focus on the history of the memorial, but simply used it as a prop for the contestants, which drew fury from viewers and veterans' rights groups.
CBS has since apologized in a statement read at the start of Sunday's episode by show host Phil Keoghan -- but my hunch is that social media definitely forced the studio's hand.
On the show, contestants went to the memorial to find their next clue, where the downed plane was simply shown with an Amazing Race "Double-U-Turn" signed planted in front of it. Additionally, competing cast members had to learn a song performed for them by children in front of a portrait of Ho Chi Minh, with subtitled lyrics that included “Vietnam Communist Party is glorious. The light is guiding us to victory.”
The footage created plenty of criticism online, with viewers posting comments like,
So, did anyone but me find the ‘Amazing Race’ going to Hanoi and extolling the greatness of Hanoi offensive? Especially the part where the contestants had a ‘clue’ box at a Hanoi monument of a downed B-52? And none of them even slowed down to look at it or reflect on what it meant?
I don’t know how many Vietnam vets are on here, but there should be a campaign to have CBS apologize publicly.
Fox News' co-host of "The Five" Bob Beckel called for a public apology from CBS:
Do you realize, CBS, there were four Americans that went down with that plane? Two of them died. There are 850,00 American Vietnam veterans alive today, and you owe them an amazing, big apology.
Perhaps more meaningfully, Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander John Hamilton wrote a nearly 500-word open letter to CBS. It reads, in part,
I hope you can understand our anger at a show that wasted a golden opportunity to educate as well as entertain. The scene with the B-52 wreckage could have been used to tell a story about what was then America’s longest war, about the 58,195 American names on the Vietnam Wall, about the 1,652 Americans still listed as missing-in-action, or about the fates of the multiple crewmen aboard each of the 17 American B-52s we lost in combat. The B-52 scene, as well as the young people singing a propaganda song, was totally unnecessary to the show’s plot, which speaks volumes about naïve producers who think they’re in charge when they are not.
I can only guess at how many times that letter was shared via Facebook, message boards, and other social media -- and the results of the online outcry were apparent last night. A week after the offending episode ran, CBS chose to issue an apology during prime time. At the beginning of Sunday's episode, show host Phil Keoghan gave this statement:
Parts of last Sunday's episode, filmed in Vietnam, were insensitive to a group that is very important to us -- our nation's veterans. We want to apologize to veterans, particularly those who served in Vietnam, as well as to their families and any viewers who were offended by the broadcast. All of us here have the most profound respect for the men and women who fight for our country.
Social media has definitely changed the game in terms of handling bad press. Organizations can't just bury a negative story any more, particularly when something picks up momentum online. I think CBS could have been a little quicker in its response, but choosing to address the controversy via the same show that caused it was probably a smart move. The odd thing is that they haven't yet published anything on their own social outlets, which to me just goes to show that old-school media hasn't quite figured this stuff out yet. It's all about responding quickly and intelligently, and making the message easy to share.
What do you think about this Amazing Race controversy? Do you think CBS handled it well?
Image via CBS