On 21 August 2017, the right-wing Gateway Pundit web site misleadingly reported that Marcus Lemonis, CEO of the Camping World chain of RV and camping stores, had told supporters of President Donald Trump not to shop at his company’s outlets. Their article, published under the headline “Major NASCAR Sponsor Tells Trump Fans to Take Their Business Elsewhere,” stated:
In recent weeks, several CEOs have distanced themselves from President Trump. Some have left advisory councils. Some have attacked President Trump in the press. But few of them have businesses that serve President Trump’s core supporters. Now, a CEO of a NASCAR sponsor has decided to tell Trump supporters to take their business elsewhere.
The article then quoted at length from an 18 August New England Sports Network (NESN) report:
Marcus Lemonis has no problem with some customers taking their RV and outdoor needs elsewhere … Amid the flood of CEOs rushing to distance themselves from Trump’s business councils after the U.S. president’s wishy-washy denunciation of white supremacy last weekend, Lemonis on Wednesday appeared on CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” where he seemed to suggest he wouldn’t be shattered if people who supported Trump’s comments decided to shop elsewhere.
The NESN article was specific about the context of Lemonis remarks and fairly stated that the CEO did suggest that those who agreed with President Trump’s response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, should not shop at his stores. However, the headline that accompanied the Gateway Pundit article was misleading and overly broad, suggesting Lemonis had directed his comments at anyone who agreed with President Trump in general, rather than anyone who agreed with him specifically on the subject of Charlottesville.
The lack of specificity in Gateway Pundit’s headline was echoed in a subsequent report by the Daily Wire web site, whose headline also falsely claimed “Major NASCAR Sponsor Tells Trump Supporters to Shop Elsewhere …” Marcus Lemonis did not tell or ask Trump supporters, as such, not to shop at his stores; he did, however, appear to suggest that those who agreed with President Trump’s remarks in response to events in Charlottesville should not patronize his business.
What Lemonis Actually Said
During a 16 August interview for CNBC’s Power Lunch, host Michelle Caruso-Cabrera asked Lemonis (who hosts his own show, The Profit, on the same network) about business leaders’ distancing themselves from the Trump administration in the aftermath of the President’s response to Charlottesville. (President Trump had disbanded two of his business advisory councils after several corporate leaders resigned from them in response to his comments about the ‘Unite the Right Rally’ in Charlottesville. The remark by Lemonis that was seized upon occurred in the following context:
Michelle Caruso-Cabrera: Marcus, you have a consumer-facing business, Camping World. So do you worry about — if you were on one of these [presidential] councils, would you worry, thinking ‘Wow, I’ve got to deal with consumers every day, are they going to look at the business poorly because I’m associated with the White House?’
Marcus Lemonis: There’s no doubt that there is [sic] probably not many consumers in this country today that are in favor of what has been said in the last couple of days and if they are, quite frankly don’t shop at my business. And I think the reality of it is is that there is a fear, there is a fear of association.
Lemonis said that anyone “in favor of what has been said in the last couple of days” should not shop at his business. He did not say anyone who supported President Trump, or even agreed with President Trump in general, should not shop at his stores. In fact, he didn’t even reference President Trump specifically, simply referring generally to “what has been said in the last couple of days.” However, interpreting his comment to mean that anyone who agreed with what President Trump said about Charlottesville should not shop at his stores was a reasonable reading of his remarks, given the context (i.e., he was answering a question about businesses’ distancing themselves from the White House over Trump’s response to the Charlottesville rally) and the fact that earlier in the interview, Lemonis said: “I of course, along with the other CEOs, are horrified by what we’re hearing and seeing from this administration …”
We asked Camping World to verify whose comments (and which comments) Lemonis was referring to when he mentioned “what has been said in the last couple of days”, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.
What Lemonis Claims He Said
On 21 August, Marcus Lemonis released a video message addressing the controversy surrounding his CNBC remarks. In it, he inaccurately described what he said on Power Lunch in the following ways:
For the record, what I said is that if you are OK with what happened in Charlottesville, what was said and what was done, I’m not ok with it.
So from my position, once and for all, loud and clear – what I said is that if you are ok with what was said in Charlottesville and what was done, then I’m not ok with it.
I will not change my position, no matter how hurt I get in this situation, that if you are OK with violence and if you are OK with hate and if you are OK with racism of any kind, or bigotry of any kind, or you are trying to hurt people of any kind, I’m not OK with it.
I’m not moving from my position that violence and hate are not OK from anybody, about anything.
How I feel over the last several days https://t.co/zku9VyP8dV
— Marcus Lemonis (@marcuslemonis) August 21, 2017
In fact, these are inaccurate descriptions and summaries of what Lemonis said on CNBC. He did not mention “what happened in Charlottesville,” or “what was said in Charlottesville,” nor “being okay with” violence, hatred, racism, or bigotry. He referenced “what was said in the last couple of days” in the context of answering a question about business leaders distancing themselves from the White House after President Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville.
It is noteworthy that Lemonis’ CNBC interview took place on 16 August, four days after the white supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, but just one day after President Trump’s widely criticized remarks on the rally, in which he said there was “blame on both sides” and that there were “very fine people” on both sides.
We also asked Camping World how Marcus Lemonis reconciled his remarks on CNBC with his subsequent descriptions of them, but we again did not receive a response in time for publication. We also asked the company whether Lemonis condemned President Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville, but we did not receive a response to that question either.
The views Marcus Lemonis expressed in his follow-up video message may well reflect his considered position on the issue, but they are not what he said on CNBC.
Lemonis certainly did not say that anyone who supports or generally agrees with President Trump should not shop at his stores. However, contrary to his own inaccurate descriptions of his CNBC interview, Lemonis did strongly appear to have suggested that anyone who agreed with President Trump’s controversial remarks about the events of 12 August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, should not shop at his stores.