TODAY   |  June 03, 2013

New Cheerios ad sparks racist comments

A commercial portraying a biracial family has prompted a debate over race in America. General Mills disabled comments on the YouTube video because many were offensive and racist. NBC’s Willie Geist reports, and Star Jones and Donny Deutsch discuss the controversy.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> another story turning here a new commercial from cheerios drawing a lot of attention, features a mixed race family and that's led to some negative comments online.

>> mom?

>> yes, honey?

>> dad teold me cheerios is good for your heart. is that true?

>> this smcommercial proued so many racist remarks last week. the online bigotry offended many americans.

>> gross, outrageous stuff and the kind of stuff that's rooted in unfair stereotypes of black people really.

>> reporter: the maker of cheerios , general mills , found some of the reaction so offensive it disabled all youtube comments about its commercial.

>> the comments that were made in our view were not family-friendly, and that was really the trigger for us to pull them off.

>> reporter: how could a commercial about a little girl who puts cheerios on her daddy's chest insight hate? and while there may be a mixed race president, on television over the years, interracial families rarely have been seen.

>> ultimately we were trying to portray an american family , and there are lots of multicultural families in america today.

>> reporter: general mills says it will not pull the ad due to any controversy and meghan, who ate cheerios at a very young age is grateful the company has taken a stand.

>> i think this commercial is a really big step for interracial families. the commercial represents that we exist.

>> and here to weigh in star jones and attorney and former prosecutor and donny deutsch , chairman of deutsche inc.. star, let me start with you. should we be surprised by this reaction? if we look at the comment section you find ugliness and hatred, some of the darkest places online. are you surprised by the reaction of this ad?

>> i'm not surprised at the reaction because social media is the new kind of ku klux klan white hood, allows you to be anonymous and say the things you would never say to a person to their face but a lot of this is generational also. people in my generation are still stuck in giving the side eye to an interracial couple. i think younger people have gotten used to seeing black and white and latin and black and latin and white. that's not going to be an issue in years to come.

>> donny your company did an interracial couple in an ad 20 years ago.

>> 20 years ago.

>> but you still think this is somewhat unusual for madison avenue , why?

>> what's unfortunate is i still think 97% of companies would stay away from this. they'd say i don't need the letters which is a shame. in real i when do you an ad like this, yes there will be some fringe crazy people that go oh! and they go crazy about everything but in reality you're making a statement about your company, we're progressive, we're inclusive. we are about today and great advertising holds up a mirror to who we are and where we're going. the shame is, once again i did an ad with a biracial couple 20 years ago. we see it in movies, tv, but advertising is late to the game. my challenge to advertisers, get where the country is going.

>> i was struck watching this, didn't strike me, we talked about the generational thing but how infrequently we do see interracial couples in any advertising.

>> we are in a post racial environment with a black president and we are cohesive as a family here at the "today" show but a lot of people still see black and white and they like to bring out the dirty and the nasty. i'm glad we're having this conversation.

>> there's an interesting point advertisers have one objective to make money for their shareholders. within reality there's 1% that are interracial couples that's probably what the representation should be. we can't overreact because once again their job is to sell product. this is a smart way to sell product.

>> are we somehow kind of giving voice to this, few people that go on anonymous comment sections and say this kind of thing by highlighting it like this.

>> we're also giving voice to the fact it's heart healthy and you know that makes me happy.

>> oh, star, okay, bringing her own agenda item at the end.

>> donny doesn't an advertiser have a responsibility to push the conversation forward. in other words you're not held accountable to that 1%.

>> your responsibility is to do what's right for your brand and for cheerios this is right. there may be some brands, there may be some real mainstream, if i'm selling quaker oats i'm probably not doing that. i salute cheerios and get smart, more advertisers need to do it.

>> star and donny , thank you