CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Marketplace's Bon Qui Qui Moment

Joel Kaplan

May 7, 2013

American Public Media's Marketplace program broadcast an interesting story recently about the failure of fast food chains like McDonald's to offer compelling customer service.

Picking up on a recent blog post in the Wall Street Journal which said McDonald's is in the midst of rolling out a new "dual point" ordering system to reduce the chaos at the ordering counter, Marketplace said the new system was designed to improve the customer service experience.

"Fast food isn't called friendly food — and for a reason," the Marketplace report began before quoting from a stand-up bit from comedian Bon Qui Qui:

"Welcome to King Burger where we can do it your way, but don't get crazy!" says Bon Qui Qui, a character in a MADtv skit. When a customer orders a "number five with a boneless skinless chicken that is slightly seasoned," Bon Qui Qui bellows: "SECURITY! NEXT."

While the Marketplace producers thought this comedy bit was a great way to illustrate the story, one listener didn't appreciate it:

"Does CPB typically fund stories that provide context through over the top sexist and racist/insensitive imagery?" asked listener Shannon Mather. "The comedian, a Latina, who created this character said this once. She then went on to mock an audience member's disapproval of the Bon Qui Qui character: 'Once I was doing Bon Qui Qui in Miami, and this black girl was in the audience and she yelled out, 'That's not funny!' which was really funny because she sounded exactly like the character I was playing.'

"She also said, once, 'Deep down inside, I'm really a black girl stuck in a Mexican girl's body.'

"I know your audience is mostly white and wouldn't realize that this character is on par with mammy characters and such, but please. You can do better CPB."

To their credit, Sarah Gilbert, managing editor of Marketplace and Jonathan Karp, senior editor of Marketplace, agreed that while the one clip used in the radio report was a good way to illustrate the story, the controversial Bon Qui Qui was probably not the best person to use, given her reputation.

"As you probably know, Marketplace often uses sound from television shows, movies and songs to help illustrate in an engaging way the theme or key points of a story," Ms. Gilbert and Mr. Karp wrote in an e-mail.

"The MADtv clip in the McDonald's piece addressed the central theme: fast-food service. We used the skit to show how popular culture spoofs fast food, and we carefully chose excerpts tailored to that point. In our opinion, the clip conveyed — in an exaggerated satirical manner — the relationship between fast-food employees and customers. It showed that the frustration can cut both ways: the fussy customer isn't a sympathetic character. Indeed, the story elicited feedback from listeners who identified with the employee and interpreted the exchange as frowning on overly demanding customers.

"We are certainly sensitive to inadvertent stereotyping and racial innuendo, and we don't believe that's the takeaway from these MADtv excerpts. Again, it was about the interaction between customers and employees, not a commentary about who those employees are.

"At the same time, we understand that not all listeners hear a story in the same way. We are familiar with the criticism of Bon Qui Qui, and it's worth noting that we did not identify her in the piece on air. We did, however, mention her in the written version of the story on our website and we had a link to the full skit. In retrospect, we decided to remove the link, since the full skit strayed beyond the essential point we wanted to flag creatively in our story."

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