After a month—and 14 press releases—the Catholic League today announced the end of its mini-boycott against Miller Brewing Company.
The trouble grew out of hysteria over a leather-themed San Francisco festival, whose promotional poster featured scantily-clad men and women posing in positions reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” While the famous painting has been referenced or parodied countless times in popular culture, Concerned Women for America and other groups, apparently eager to channel anti-gay sentiments in new directions, decided that the Folsom Street Fair’s flyer was the one to exhibit “open ridicule of Christianity” which, according to CWA’s Matt Barber, “is unfortunately very common within much of the homosexual community.” Miller was listed on the flyer as a sponsor of the event.
The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue latched on to the corporate connection and quickly launched one of its frequent (and typically short-lived) boycotts. Miller responded by having its logo removed from the flyer, but that wasn’t enough to halt the Donohue juggernaut, which then pointed to some comic drag queens who dressed like nuns. Demanding that Miller “pull its sponsorship” of the entire festival, the Catholic League “call[ed] on more than 200 Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu organizations to join with us.”
It’s not clear exactly how much of this coalition the Catholic League was able to actually mobilize; at the very least, “high-ranking members” of “the Chaldean community in Michigan” were key to the campaign. But the League did develop a new “game plan”: Apparently banking on disgust felt at pictures of semi-naked, ostensibly gay men, Donohue began sending naughty pictures from the festival to pastors, rabbis and imams, business groups, and so on that he found in the Milwaukee phone book. Donohue adamantly rejected Miller’s apology over the flyer, as well as a second apology that he called “insulting.” A third apology was similarly dismissed:
“If Miller pledges not to sponsor another anti-Catholic event, we will drop the boycott and the anti-Miller PR campaign. But not until it does.”
But miraculously, Donohue graciously accepted Miller’s fourth apology, which extended to “other disrespectful activities, objects and groups associated with or present at the fair.” Although, as far as we know, Miller neither “pull[ed] its sponsorship” nor “pledge[d] not to sponsor another anti-Catholic event” (whatever that means), Donohue declared the boycott a success and called it off. “What we wanted was an acknowledgment that there were other extremely disturbing anti-Catholic aspects to this event,” he said, adding, “Now it’s time for everyone who enjoys Miller beer to resume consumption again.”
It’s hard to say what the lesson for corporate PR departments is, since it’s not clear what the antidote to this boycott was, other than an acknowledgement of Donohue’s persistence. In any event, now the Catholic League can move on to more serious matters, such as attacking movies based on books whose sequels alleged contain atheist undertones.