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Pete Hoekstra's Campaign Website's "Offensive" Source Code Changed After Outcry

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, February 7 2012

As if "chop suey fonts" and obvious graphic allusions to the stereotype of the Chinese as the Yellow Peril weren't controversial enough, the group that created an incendiary microsite for former Rep. Pete Hoekstra's campaign has managed to further fan the flames with what it's calling a mistake in its code.

The Prosper Group, a Republican web design and strategy company, on Tuesday quietly removed a tag in a Hoekstra campaign site's source code that had labeled an image of an Asian woman, who also appears in an accompanying video, as "yellowgirl." The tag had been spotted by users of the social news-sharing site Reddit. In the code, that image is now dubbed "Yellowshirtgirl."

The site, titled "Debbie Spend It Now," accompanied a Super Bowl ad that invoked stereotypes of Asians generally and people of Chinese descent in particular. The ad sets a scene involving a Chinese woman speaking broken English, while riding an antiquated bicycle, in a rice paddy, and — evoking racial stereotypes and racially motivated fears that hearken back to the 18th century — eager to take the job of some American citizen.

Hoekstra caused an uproar on Sunday when the ad aired during the Super Bowl in Michigan, rolling all of this racially charged content towards the suggestion that the incumbent he hoped to unseat was somehow responsible for the Chinese holding larger amounts of U.S. Treasury debt, and that this was an existential threat to American national security. The ad campaign was created by Fred Davis of Strategic Perception.

On Reddit, members of the online community who looked at the code pretty soon noted the use of the phrase. Someone pointed it out to Talking Points Memo publisher Josh Marshall. The Atlantic's James Fallows then called out the campaign on it, and the item has since gone viral.

By Tuesday, the name of the image had changed to "yellowshirtgirl."

Asked about the change, Kristen Luidhardt the Prosper Group's president, said: "As you saw from your own code example and file name, the color yellow was referring to the girl's shirt. The image in question was originally named "yellowshirtgirl" but was mistakenly shortened. It's that simple."

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