Mighty Sears Surrenders to AFA in Culture Skirmish

By Bryan Fischer

Sears is No. 48 on the Fortune 500 list, and yet ran up the white flag of surrender in less than 24 hours when the American Family Association network kicked into high gear to complain about its sale of hardcore pornography.

Sears, believe it or not, the “place where America shops,” has been selling hardcore pornography on its website since at least August of 2010.

Once AFA was alerted, we initiated private correspondence with Sears executives in an effort to persuade them to the do the right thing and pull these products off their internet selves.

Sears blew us off at every turn.

For nine months, Sears stonewalled, denied, and refused to respond. Sears even went so far, in the middle of the porn controversy, of accusing AFA of refusing to respond to an offer from its executives to meet with us. That was a bald-faced lie. We had reached out to Sears for nine months, seeking just a meeting, and were consistently rebuffed. Not once did Sears reach out to AFA.

To prove our case, in the face of Sears’ denials, we ordered an explicit pornographic DVD right off the Sears website. The title of the DVD: “Hot Mamas Love Young Chicks 3.” I have not screened this video, but rest assured it is not a documentary about attractive Midwestern farmers’ wives running egg hatcheries.

We’ve got the packing slip with the Sears label and the title of the DVD right there in front of God and everybody. We included a copy of this packing slip in the action alert we sent out last Thursday to our 2.3 million member network, an action alert in which we urged our members to contact the CEO of Sears directly and complain.

This set off a firestorm at Sears headquarters as phone calls came pouring in from all over the country. Sears apparently was distressed at the thought of losing their grip on their spot in the Fortune top 100 by alienating the moms and dads who are used to buying dishwashers and lawnmowers from Sears but were aghast to discover that this trusted retailer was hawking lesbian porn and then lying to them about it.

It wasn’t long – the next morning in fact – before Randy Sharp, AFA’s Director of Special Projects, received a phone call from an agitated Chris Brathwaite, the vice-president of corporate communications for Sears. He vehemently denied that Sears was selling porn or any such thing.

Mr. Sharp calmly asked Mr. Brathwaite if he was in front of his computer. He was, so Sharp asked him for another 10 seconds of his time. From the Sears home page, he led Mr. Brathwaite almost instantly – with just the one click on the drop down menu on the home page – to the porn site and suddenly Brathwaite’s screen was filled with come-ons for explicit videos, being sold by a third-party vendor to whom Sears had rented web space.

There was a moment of stunned silence before Brathwaite said in a small voice, “Oh. That’s not supposed to be there.” He quickly hung up, telling Sharp he had some phone calls to make.

Shortly thereafter, Sharp watched as one by one links to hardcore porn were stripped from the Sears site.

Sears subsequently issued an abject apology with promises never to do it again, and later on Friday Sharp received a phone call from a humble and contrite Brathwaite, full of assurances that Sears will work with AFA in the future to prevent a re-occurrence.

Here is the Sears statement in full, with emphasis added:

    • “We sincerely apologize to any customers who were offended.  Our agreements with our vendors prohibit content that is pornographic or
    • sexually explicit in nature.  We are removing these items that do not
    • meet our guidelines.  We regularly review our processes to ensure
    • compliance by our vendors, and we encourage our customers and
    • community to help us flag any items that they believe might violate
    • our guidelines.”

Sears’ capitulation came so suddenly and unexpectedly that the next edition of our monthly AFA Journal, which was already in the mail, contains a feature piece on Sears’ intransigence. The surrender came too late for us to update the piece, and so Sears may well be getting many additional phone calls from faithful readers of the Journal, which will simply serve as a welcome reminder to Sears to take care of their knitting in the future.

I close my radio program every day by reminding my listeners that “we are fighting a winnable war.” What this episode proves is that even a Goliath like Sears can be brought to its knees when enough pro-family Americans care enough to act on their values by making a single phone call.

Edmund Burke famously said that all it takes for evil to triumph “is for good men to do nothing.” In this case, good men did something rather than nothing, and helped to the get the mind of a retail giant right in the process.

We are locked in a culture war with the forces of secular fundamentalism, a fight for the soul of this country, and as Sears has just proved, this is a war that can be won.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at “Focal Point”

The Moral Liberal contributing editor, Bryan Fischer, is Director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy at the American Family Association, and is the host of the daily ‘Focal Point’ radio talk program on AFR Talk, a division of the American Family Association. ‘Focal Point’ airs live from 1-3 pm Central Time, and is also simulcast on the AFA Channel, which can be seen on the Sky Angel network.

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