Ina Fried

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Sprint-Funded Ad Pulled After Complaints From Transgender Community

An ad funded by Sprint to fight AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA is being pulled after complaints that the ads were offensive.

The ad, which ran on a number of political Web sites and in various newspapers on Tuesday, depicts a man in a dress similar to that worn by the spokeswoman for T-Mobile. The ad featured the tag line “It makes sense if you don’t think about it”–also a play on T-Mobile’s advertisements. The ads were funded by Sprint and created on behalf of a number of groups opposing the proposed $39 billion deal.

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the groups backing the ad had begun receiving complaints and a Sprint representative confirmed to Mobilized that the ads are being pulled.

“We believe the proposed transaction is really bad for consumers, the industry and the country,” a Sprint representative said. “We supported these efforts to get that message out broadly to consumers. We certainly apologize the material offended anyone. That was not our intent.”

The advertisement ran in National Journal Daily, Politico and Roll Call as well as in the hometown newspapers of several committee members, including the Washington Post, Des Moines Register, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, St Paul Pioneer Press and Hartford Courant, among others.

Sprint declined to say how much it spent on the ads.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president of the Media Access Project says his group signed off on the ads after being shown them by a Sprint representative and apologized for that decision.

“We were insensitive,” he said, noting that the groups were in a rush to get their ads ready ahead of Wednesday’s hearing before a Senate subcommittee. “I can’t undo this, but we certainly aren’t going to associate ourselves with anything like this.”

Schwartzman said he was first alerted to the issue Tuesday afternoon after getting a complaint from REC Networks, a company with whom his group has worked on low-power radio issues. The company, whose founder is transgender, issued an open letter on the issue.

“We are deeply disturbed by an advertisement that was developed and approved in part by organizations including Media Access Project and the Center For Media Justice,” REC Founder Michi Eyre said in the letter. “While we do not view this as intentional transphobia on the part of MAP or the other organizations or Sprint, who purchased the advertising space, we feel that the depiction is still inappropriate.”

Eyre said REC is itself opposed to the AT&T-T-Mobile deal.

“REC Networks opposes the AT&T/T-Mobile merger as it will create a monopoly in the GSM spectrum and will limit a consumer’s choice of providers thus making their handset non-portable,” Eyre said.

Update, 8:45 p.m.: Eyre said in an e-mailed statement that she was glad to see the ad was pulled.

“We sometimes need to shock to call attention to a serious issue that can impact millions of consumers in America, but that shock should not be done at the expense of an already oppressed community who experiences violence every day because of how they look and how they identify,” Eyre said in the statement.