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Anti-Islam ad that runs in newspaper results in fired manager, donation to Muslim group, diversity training

Following the publication of a full-page Sunday ad that predicted a nuclear attack in Nashville by “Islam,” the Tennessean newspaper and its parent company Gannett said Monday that an advertising manager was fired, a donation was pledged to a Muslim advocacy group, and additional diversity training at the paper was planned, the Tennessean reported.

The ad was purchased by an Arkansas-based Future for America which focuses on end-of-world preaching, the paper added.

What are the details?

“The sales and design teams did not fully read the context of the ad content in its entirety and subsequently approved it,” Kathy Jack-Romero, president of Gannett’s local sales, told the Tennessean.

While a sales executive flagged the ad for review, the sales manager “agreed to proceed with the ad without fully reviewing the content,” Jack-Romero added to the paper. That manager was terminated Monday, the Tennessean reported.

More from the paper:

Money from the ad sale is being refunded to the Arkansas nonprofit Future for America. The group signaled its intention to buy billboard advertising and mail letters to thousands of Nashvillians this week.

Separately, Gannett will donate the $14,000 value of the ad sale to the American Muslim Advisory Council, a Nashville-based advocacy group. The company is also giving the council $50,000 in advertising credit, which will be used for multiple Islamic organizations.

Gannett provides annual mandatory training on diversity and inclusion to all employees corporate-wide. Jack-Romero said the company would coordinate with the advisory council for a round of diversity and sensitivity training for The Tennessean newsroom and sales teams. Additional training will be done company-wide for the entire sales division.

“All sales executives, managers and creative development team members will be provided with refreshed training and policies around hate speech and other sensitive advertising content,” Jack-Romero told the paper.

She added to the paper that Gannett and the Tennessean “completed our review, taken action against the manager responsible, strengthened our processes to ensure this never happens again, and taken steps to mitigate the tremendous harm caused to the community. We apologize for publishing this ad and we specifically apologize to the Muslim community, in Nashville and more broadly. This should have never happened.”

What did Muslim leaders have to say?

Sabina Mohyuddin, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council, confirmed to the paper that executives from the Tennessean reached out to apologize and that the AMAC will accept the donation.

“We’re grateful that they’ve opted not to benefit from the proceeds of that ad,” Mohyuddin told the Tennessean. “We can use that for something good in the community.”

Mohyuddin also told the paper the ad placed a “huge target” on Muslims throughout the region, recalling a yearslong effort to prevent the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro from opening in 2012. The Tennessean said construction equipment was set on fire in 2010 while the mosque was under construction and then bacon was draped over door handles and expletives were spray painted on the walls in 2017.

She also told the paper the AMAC would work with Tennessean managers on Islamophobia training.

At-large AMAC member Zulfat Suara — the first American Muslim to ever hold elected office in Nashville — told the paper that concrete changes and continued action are necessary to repair relations.

“We got the apology. That was nice and dandy, but that’s not enough,” Suara added to the Tennessean. “For us, it’s making sure it doesn’t happen again. For us, it’s making sure it doesn’t happen to another community.”

What did the group that purchased the ad have to say?

Jeff Pippenger of Future for America told the paper his group tried to advertise with other outlets, but “their editorial process rejected the job.”

He added that had the paper “told us out front they would not print it, we would have sought other avenues to advertise the message.”

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‘Heartbroken’ Hoda Kotb breaks down after interviewing star quarterback Drew Brees who’s donating $5M to Louisiana for coronavirus relief

Sometimes TV news personalities feel the emotional weight of the stories and subjects they cover — and Hoda Kotb, coanchor of NBC’s “Today,” is no exception.

What happened?

Kotb on Friday morning interviewed New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees after he pledged $5 million for coronavirus relief to the state of Louisiana, which has been hit hard by the pandemic as businesses have shut down and medical supplies are badly needed.

She told Brees she was “heartbroken” seeing the new struggles citizens are dealing with in New Orleans, a city she covered earlier in her career as an anchor for local station WWL-TV.

“There’s such a need,” Kotb told Brees. “They need hospital equipment, they need all kinds of stuff. And all of a sudden on my Twitter feed yesterday, I looked and it said ‘$5 million’ and ‘Drew Brees,’ and I said, ‘Oh! He came through again!'”

Image source: YouTube screenshot

Brees noted that “there are so many people in need right now” and that the coronavirus is particularly difficult for Louisiana since “we’re a hospitality state” that can’t afford to have its restaurant industry shut down.

On Instagram Thursday, Brees said he and his wife Brittany “will be mobilizing our partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank, Ochsner Health Systems, Walk-Ons, Jimmy Johns, Smalls Sliders, and Waitr to prepare and deliver over 10,000 meals per day throughout Louisiana for as long as it takes to children on meal programs, seniors, and families in need. Let’s all do our part, maintain hope, and get through this together.”

The couple are owners or investors in the restaurant chains and food delivery service Brees noted in his post, ESPN reported, adding that they have been heavily involved in the New Orleans and Gulf South communities through their Brees Dream Foundation since the quarterback joined the Saints in 2006 and began helping in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“Hang in there and maintain hope,” Brees told those in the state as the interview with Kotb came to a close. “Obviously, we’ve been through a lot of tough times together — whether it’s hurricanes, oil spills, floods. And this is just another one of those bits of adversity that we’re going to come out better on the other side. But we’ve got to stick together right now.”

Kotb added to Brees that she believes “a lot of things are contagious, including generosity” and that she hopes because he made a “big, generous donation” that others will say, “Hey, maybe I can help out, too.”

‘I’m so sorry’

As soon as the interview concluded, Kotb was overcome with emotion and wasn’t able to deliver the tease of program’s next segment, trying to hold back tears and shuffling papers. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice breaking.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

“Oh, Hoda, I know it’s a lot,” coanchor Savannah Guthrie told Kotb. “Hoda, I’m so sorry, hon. Take a moment. It’s a lot. I know where your heart is, my dear, I do.” With that Guthrie offered to tease the next segment, to which Kotb replied, “Yes, please.”

In the replies underneath the “Today” video tweet of Kotb’s emotional moment, many commenters said they were touched by her humanity.

“We are in the midst of a world crisis and it’s stressful and hard,” one commenter wrote. “I’m happy to see some honest, caring, and real emotion from the wonderful Hoda.”

Kotb and Guthrie later recapped the interview and Kotb’s emotional moment:

You can watch her full interview with Brees here.

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Texas Roadhouse CEO gives up salary and bonus for the rest of the year to pay ‘front-line’ workers feeling the shutdown squeeze

The CEO of Texas Roadhouse is giving up his base salary and bonus for the remainder of the calendar year in order to pay “front-line” employees amid the coronavirus pandemic, Market Watch reported Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the restaurant chain confirmed to The Hill that W. Kent Taylor, who is also the company’s co-founder, agreed to forego his pay from March 18 to Jan. 7, 2021, to aid employees who are feeling the squeeze.

The restaurant industry is among the hardest hit by shutdown measures in several states that have forced non “life-essential” businesses to close in hopes of containing the spread of COVID-19.

“Kent Taylor has always said that Texas Roadhouse is a People-company that just happens to serve great steaks. His donation of his salary and bonus to help employees is the embodiment of that saying. We are blessed to have his leadership,” the spokesperson told the news outlet.

The spokesperson also reported that the amount donated from Taylor’s base salary and bonus will amount to “just under $1 million.”

Taylor also recently donated $5 million to a company charitable fund called Andy’s Outreach, which helps support employees during times of need.

Texas Roadhouse, which operates 500 restaurants in 49 states across America, decided to temporarily halt inside dining as health experts and several state officials called for community mitigation measures to slow the spread of the virus. In the meantime, the restaurant chain has continued to offer its to-go order and curbside delivery options.