Declaring Victory

If an anti-gay campaign falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

For two years, the American Family Association has operated a boycott of Ford Motor Company for its gay-friendly employment practices and its advertising in gay magazines. And AFA has not been shy about taking credit for the automaker’s financial woes.

“For the 13th month out of the last 15, the boycott of Ford Motor Company by AFA and other pro-family groups has helped cause Ford to lose sales,” the group bragged last June. “Ford continues to financially support homosexual groups despite the massive sales drop and a loss of millions for the company’s stockholders,” it warned in July. In January, AFA founder Don Wildmon asserted that a “significant amount” of Ford’s decline in sales was “a direct result of the boycott.”

Nevertheless, industry analysts have seen Ford’s continuing financial woes as the result of factors such as gas prices, market changes, workforce aging, and management—and not as a direct result of “its commitment to the homosexual agenda,” as AFA put it. Instead, reports focused on Ford’s “Way Forward” plan (released before AFA’s boycott), which announced large downsizing and projected profitability in 2009. The right-wing Media Research Center issued a report accusing “the media” of being “strangely silent” about the boycott.

Yesterday, AFA announced that it was declaring victory and ending the boycott, asserting that, based on AFA’s own “monitoring,” Ford had met its conditions on donations to gay and lesbian non-profits and gay-oriented advertising. “Flinch! Ford finally bends,” trumpeted the right-wing World Net Daily. Ford, on the other hand, denied that it had made any changes in policy:

Ford said in a statement that its principles haven’t changed, but that it has reduced overall advertising and charitable spending in recent years because of losses in North America. Ford lost $2.7 billion in 2007.

“We are committed to treating everyone fairly and with respect, including our dealers, customers and employees,” the company said. “Ford will continue to market its products widely to attract as many customers as possible and make charitable contributions to strengthen communities to the extent business conditions allow.”

If AFA is to be believed, we can expect Ford Motor Company to make a dramatic recovery in the coming months. Then again, it could be that AFA simply gave up, as Daniel Blatt predicted just a month ago:

Let the AFA attribute the decline of Ford to its drawing attention to the company’s pro-gay policies. But other corporations have adopted similar policies and not suffered like the American automaker. The AFA may claim that it hasn’t targeted them, but I would wager that if it had, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Americans are more concerned about a product’s quality than they are about the domestic partnership policies of the corporations than produce it.

Realizing this, expect the AFA to drop its boycott against Ford as it did the campaign against Disney. It will probably claim that it made a point, but it really won’t have made much of a difference.