No, they didn't do what you think they did. But what does truth mean in the age of misinformation anyway?
In the few short days following the election, people worldwide stood in unison absolutely stunned. Some took to the streets to voice dismay of the results; others sat quietly in their cars and cried. Supporters celebrated. Detractors did not. It’s been a weird fucking week.
Yet as the fallout continues, many have found themselves in awkward situations, socially torn — none more so than New Balance shoes, a company under attack for something it didn’t even do.
The afternoon of November 9 is when it all began. That’s when Wall Street Journal reporter Sara Germano sent out a tweet implying the New Balance Vice President of Public Affairs hated Obama and thought the country will finally turn around under the Trump regime.
Actually, that’s not at all what he said, or what she tweeted, but you see how easy it is to twist things into a particular narrative. It happens all too often now with only a few characters to make a complicated point.
When asked to provide context by one of her followers, Germano pointed to her next tweet (notice the inconsistencies of retweets between the two):
The quote isn't wrong. Matthew LeBretton, VP of Public Affairs, actually did say that, “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and, frankly, with president-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” However, the quote was all in reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal the company views as being a handout to its competitors while damaging companies like theirs which keeps manufacturing in the U.S.
Therein lies the problem with nü-media, however. Germano wasn’t particularly wrong in her reduction. Journalists and online writers do it all the time. Smug and condescending as shit about the fallout of her actions, sure, but nothing she did was egregiously malicious towards the company. But that doesn’t matter in today’s world of over-consumption and under-reflection.
Because the second that first Tweet was sent out, people immediately took it the way anyone with social media experience could expect them to. Many around the country began burning New Balance shoes in contempt or throwing them in the trash, all while spending a fantastic amount of time going after the company on its social media accounts.
For what it’s worth, Germano tried to ease in a few supportive tweets later in her timeline, some 24 hours after the damage had already been done. Obviously, those posts received a fraction of retweets and likes than the more salacious one people continued to latch onto.
The worst of the entire debacle, however, came when The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website (kind of, it looks like a 14-year-old runs it), coined support for the company and outright called them the “official shoes of white people." Some mentally defected troll runs a rudimentary blog and somehow becomes headline material overnight for saying something stupid. Let that sink in for a minute …
In its defense, New Balance made it perfectly clear the company wants nothing to do with hateful groups, stating it employs people worldwide of all cultures and backgrounds and maintains its pride in keeping at least five of its manufacturing plants here in America — the most of any major shoe manufacturer (Nike, by comparison, manufactures none of its shoes in the U.S.). It's been on the defense ever since Germano's tweet.
“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less,” it said in a release. “New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prior to Election Day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today.”
Read that again. New Balance has publicly showed support for critics of the TPP all along, even delivering disdain when President Obama toured the Nike plants last May. Critics of the TPP include Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and yes, Donald Trump. The company's stance never changed, the political climate around it, did.
Let’s also be clear that this isn’t a movement by any means. There aren’t tens of thousands of Americans now throwing away perfectly good kicks to stand behind a cause that will affect change. The people online doing this are few and far between, likely doing so just to garner a few likes online. Big media, predictably, simply picked up the non-story and attempted to churn it in a way that seemed like it would be more important than it is, wanting to get the “breaking news” points of its peers.
Because of that type of recklessness, here are some of the headlines the company now has to compete with:
‘A White Supremacist Website Just Named New Balance 'The Official Shoes of White People' – Esquire.com
Pro-Trump white supremacists have called New Balance sneakers “the official shoes of white people” – QZ.com
New Balance Sneakers Have Now Been Claimed by Neo-Nazis – GQ.com
Customers toss their New Balance shoes after comment on Trump – Washington Post
New Balance Faces Social Media Backlash After Welcoming Trump – Wall Street Journal
New Balance Burned for Praising Trump’s Trade Stance – Bloomberg.com
Statement on Trump Puts New Balance Shoe Company in Cross Hairs – NYTimes.com
New Balance Created Its PR Crisis. Neo-Nazis Aren’t Helping. – Bloomberg.com
.. and on and on.
So this is what really happened. A couple-dozen sneakerheads torched $80 pairs of shoes for no good reason, other than the fact they've lost their ability to critically read a statement, question the context of it and care to take a few minutes of doing research to verify whether or not the initial outrage felt was valid or not. Mob mentality took over, and the controversy continues to burn out of control (pun intended) for the world to glance-over in the form of engaging headlines.
And the media will continue to eat it up, spit it out, and still take absolutely no responsibility for the direction America finds itself torn two ways in.
In short: People were duped by their own stupidity and leaders of free press allow it to happen.
The line between a troll-ran white supremacy blog and once-respected national media outlets are blurred to the point where no one can really separate them by differences. No wonder 70 percent of Americans don't trust their news sources anymore.
As Abraham Lincoln once famously said in 1972, "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."