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Walmart Pulls T-Shirts That Hint At Lynching Journalists

A T-shirt with the message "Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED" rose to prominence days before last year's U.S. election. Until recently, it was offered for sale on Walmart's website.
Screengrab of Walmart's website courtesy of RTNDA
A T-shirt with the message "Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED" rose to prominence days before last year's U.S. election. Until recently, it was offered for sale on Walmart's website.

Walmart has removed a controversial T-shirt with a simple message — "Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED" — from its website, after the Radio Television Digital News Association sent the largest retailer in the U.S. a note flagging the shirt's message.

As RTDNA said, the shirt was being sold by Walmart with a company called Teespring acting as a third-party seller. The retailer removed the shirt within one day of being notified.

A Walmart spokesperson says the shirt "clearly violates our policy," adding that the company is reviewing all of the products it sells from Teespring.

The shirt first gained attention a year ago, when a Reuters photographer snapped an image of a man wearing it at a gathering of Trump supporters two days before the November presidential election.

That photo followed multiple reports of journalists being harassed or assaulted while on the campaign trail in 2016; it came months before President Trump issued a tweet in which he called media outlets such as The New York Times and CNN "the enemy of the American people."

Last November, The Daily Beast reported that the T-shirt had been removed from the Teespring site after the Reuters photo went viral. But as recently as last week, the site was offering the shirt for $22.95 — with the promise that it would arrive by Christmas Eve, according to Google's Web Cache records.

It was the shirt's appearance on Walmart's website that prompted RTNDA to send a letter to the retail giant, saying that the shirt could inflame passions and encourage violence.

In his email to Walmart, RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley wrote:

"According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is a founding partner, nearly three dozen journalists have been physically assaulted so far this year across the country merely for performing their Constitutionally-guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth. According to our fellow press freedom advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 48 journalists have been killed in other countries around the world thus far in 2017.

"It is our belief that at the least, T-Shirts or any other items bearing such words simply inflame the passions of those who either don't like, or don't understand, the news media. At worst, they openly encourage violence targeting journalists. We believe they are particularly inflammatory within the context of today's vitriolic political and ideological environment."

Shelley also said that while RTDNA is "a fierce proponent of the First Amendment that is politically nonpartisan" and that Walmart is within its legal rights to sell the T-shirt, "that doesn't mean it is the right thing to do."

RTDNA says that hours after Shelley sent his note, a member of Walmart's "Executive Escalations" team replied, "We have forwarded this to the appropriate team to remove it." The note also thanked Shelley for his feedback.

The shirt has also been taken down from the Teespring site. When we looked at its page on Thursday, it had been replaced by a message saying that the shirt "is no longer available due to content issues."

A message to Teespring seeking comment was not immediately returned.

It's not the first item to be taken down by Teespring. In August, the company said that it had removed "a number of designs ... that included a swastika, a hate symbol that we do not allow on Teespring."

The site added that it "does not support or allow hate speech on our platform," providing a link to its terms of service.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.