Shocking! AP quotes Chick-fil-A leader accurately!

OK, I know that this will be hard. But, take a deep cleansing breath and try, try, try to think back to the journalism issues that were at the heart of my first GetReligion post on this whole Chick-fil-A media hurricane.

Lot’s of people, of course, ignored my central point. That’s par for the course.

Yes, I was well aware of the longstanding tensions between Chick-fil-A and gay-rights activists and, yes, I was aware that there is a history there that must be reported.

Yes, I was aware that Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy has made many comments, in defense of his traditional Christian beliefs, that have implications for debates about same-sex marriage. His stance is very old news.

Also, I was aware that consumers can get a bit upset when corporations and/or their leaders make statements linked to hot-button public issues. This kind of flair up has happened before and it will happen again. My diet may require me to avoid Oreo cookies right now, but I will certainly continue to use Apple computers, read The New York Times, etc., etc. I’m a big First Amendment guy, so I would never deny activists — left or right — the freedom to speak their minds and, yes, that includes symbolic actions such as boycotts.

The point of that first post — click here for a refresher — was to say that a host of news organizations were out of line when they took Cathy’s Baptist Press quotes on “traditional marriage” and, in their paraphrases, turned them into direct comments on homosexuality, even though he was never asked about gay issues in this interview and, thus, never addressed gay issues at that time. His focus appeared to be on divorce.

Should these news organizations have produced stories that covered the tensions of the past? Of course.

Should their coverage have included other Cathy quotes — comments made before and after The Biblical Recorder interview that was circulated by Baptist Press — that were more relevant to gay-rights debates? Of course.

So what would accurate coverage have looked like in this case? What, in effect, was I asking journalists to do? That’s simple: I was asking journalists to be precise and accurate in their quotes. Period. It’s a journalism thing.

What does that look like?

Well, consider the following material in an Associated Press story (“Chick-fil-A Sandwiches Become a Political Symbol“) about this whole absurd media storm about this very old, old story:

Gay rights groups have called for a boycott, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals, and politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.

Across the Bible Belt, where most of the 1,600 restaurants are situated, Christian conservatives have thrown their support behind the Atlanta-based company, promising to buy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries next week on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”

The latest skirmish in the nation’s culture wars began when Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” In a later radio interview, he ratcheted up the rhetoric: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’”

That fired up gay rights advocates, including a group that waged a campaign against the company in recent years by publicizing $3 million in contributions that the Cathy family foundation has made to conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council.

Yes, AP missed that the actual interview was not with Baptist Press, but with a state Southern Baptist newspaper. That’s not a major mistake. Yes, the reference to Cathy’s “guilty as charged” statement lacks context, but it is not inaccurate. Then AP crisply and accurately quoted the stronger statement from the radio interview.

There, was that so hard?

Later in the story, readers also were reminded of these very old facts:

The Cathy family has never hid its Southern Baptist faith. Since Dan Cathy’s father, Truett, opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967, the restaurants have been closed on Sundays, and the company refused to reconsider during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, sacrificing profits. It also boasts that the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the only college football bowl game with an invocation.

Chick-fil-A posted more than $4.1 billion in sales last year, most of it below the Mason-Dixon Line. Just 14 of its restaurants are in the six states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal. Massachusetts has just two locations, both more than 10 miles from Boston. Illinois, which does not have same-sex marriage, has around a dozen, though only one in Chicago.

The company is well-positioned to come through the criticism relatively unscathed, even if it loses new markets in the North and elsewhere, University of Georgia marketing professor Sundar Bharadwaj said. He said that is because Chick-fil-A basically reflects the politics of its customers.

Then there is the whole First Amendment thing, but you get the point. It is not all that hard to quote controversial people accurately. Just do it.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • C. Wingate

    A good, basic bit of reporting, and I especially like the way that the matter is put in commercial context, which isn’t something that the reader would be likely to grasp without the reporter’s help. I only regret that the lack of time travel preventing them from including today’s statement from the mayor of NYC.

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    Excellent! We should praise AP profusely…..we get so little opportunity to do so.

  • Bobby Ross Jr.

    Media screw up Chick-fil-A story, Part 1. 31 comments.

    Media screw up Chick-fil-A story, Part 2. 37 comments.

    Media screw up Chick-fil-A story, Part 3. 44 comments.

    Media get Chick-fil-A story right. Two comments. :-)

  • Jon in the Nati

    I suppose that’s fair, Bobby. It is a little funny, at any rate. But my father always told me that you don’t get credit for doing the things you should be doing. No credit for not hitting your wife, no credit for paying your bills, no credit for being there for your kids, no credit for being a law-abiding citizen. You should be doing all that anyhow. I sort of feel the same way about this. Praising AP for quoting accurately feels a lot like praising someone for paying their taxes: it is the absolute minimum, and you’ve really got no excuse for not doing it.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bobby, I linked to and praised the AP story (although I credited it to the Washington Post) on the last thread and don’t have anything to add. I do still wonder about the Billy Graham quote.

    I did like tmatt’s post. :-)

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Apparently, the Billy Graham quote is legit.

  • MJBubba

    Associated Press gets even better with another story they did, about other firms on the other side of the issue. I think this is helpful information, even though it is very easy to tell which side AP is on.
    The Commercial Appeal delivered this story to me in this morning’s paper, but the story does not appear on their website; I easily found the story at USA Today: