MSM & Chick-fil-A: The Internet often honors stupid stories

Last week I saw Chick-fil-A trending on Google and thought there must be some delicious promotion, some sort of free sandwich you get for dressing up like a cow. Eager to get a freebie, I clicked through to find out why people were searching.

Surprise! Chick fil-A’s president Dan Cathy says, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” Or if you put it the way the media puts it, Dan Cathy does not support gay marriage.

Wait, don’t we already know this? Please tell me people — on the left or the right — don’t think this is still news.

Oh my gosh, it seems that people really do think it’s news. People on the Internet are just discovering that Chick-fil-A, which is closed on Sundays, is a Christian-run business with a Christian owner who believes in traditional Christian doctrines. People of the Internet (at least the ones who drive traffic) are shocked! Shocked, I tell you. And I’m shocked that they’re shocked, so it’s shocking all around.

The same thing happened in early 2011, and the best legitimate coverage I remember coming out of it was from Dan Gilgoff at CNN. He did a piece explaining “the controversy” and why it was a recipe for controversy. CNN has the latest on its Belief Blog, including recycling its old but smart post on 10 religious companies besides Chick-fil-A. There are even companies like this that are less obvious, so maybe I’ll write about them myself at some point.

Story ideas abound that are actually legitimate and reveal something about Christians and business. But elsewhere those stories are not being covered. As tmatt put it last week:

Now, one would assume — after reading a reference to the “comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage” — that this interview from the Biblical Recorder in North Carolina (which was circulated by Baptist Press) actually included direct quotes from Cathy in which he talks about, well, gay marriage.

What did Dan Cathy say?

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. …

“We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized. “We intend to stay the course,” he said. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Did you just drop your computer? I know, it’s shocking. I almost passed out, too. Because last time I checked, 42 percent oppose gay marriage while 48 percent favor gay marriage. Or 31 percent of Protestants support gay marriage while 59 percent oppose it. So why does this shock if it kind of, sort of, actually mirrors the country and Cathy’s own religious beliefs?

Last week, I thought this controversy would blow over. Give it a day. It’ll go away. I felt like a little kid with his hands planted up against his ears while his divorcing parents were fighting. Please just stop and tell me when it’s over. But it doesn’t end. It keeps going. The media, desperate for clicks, blogs and writes and investigates and prods and reports and covers this very important lame story that we are just discovering already know. It’s really amazing, I tell you.

Stories tend to die over the weekend. With all the Colorado shooting stories, the important news from the presidential campaigns, I think surely the media will move on to the next hot trend. But no! It doesn’t stop! It snowballs into something bigger. You either LOVE Chick-fil-A or you HATE Chick-fil-A, you can’t separate the product from the person behind it. It’s like Tim Tebow. We can’t simply evaluate him as a good or bad football player. We have to know everything where he stands because he could tear the nation into pieces. Oh my gosh. It’s as if the media has stuck its audience’s heads into a toilet for an information swirlie. But don’t let me make broad, sweeping generalizations about the horrifying nature of this story. Let me offer Case #1:

Newsweek somehow allows one of its employees to write this sentence:

Chick-Fil-A came under criticism this month after a report by the organization Equality Matters revealed that the company donated around $2 million to antigay Christian organizations in 2010. “Guilty as charged,” the fast-food chain’s president Dan Cathy said over allegations that his company is antigay (“We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit.”).

So. Here we are. Tumblr, listen up.

We’re hoping to find a current or former employee of Chick-Fil-A who might want to spill the beans on life inside the alleged antigay company.

“We’re hoping to find a current or former employee of Chick-Fil-A who might want to spill the beans on life inside the alleged antigay company.”

If that’s you, or you know someone who might want to talk to us, please email brian.ries@newsweekdailybeast.com. And if you’d like to help spread the word of our search, a reblog or a tweet would be most appreciated.

Initially, I thought, OK, please let that person be the 20-year-old summer intern going rogue on this thing we call Tumblr.

No! It’s not! It’s Newsweek‘s veteran social media editor. Please stop! Do not destroy journalism through Tumblr and reveal your biases. Do not show how blatantly slanted your outlet is, at least keep it internal. The hilarious part about social media is that you often get to see what reporters really think, who they really love, who they really hate. Yes, a religion is often the brunt of it. God forbid you believe anything specific and let it influence how you understand the world.

[Quick update: The Atlantic Wire is reporting that Newsweek will probably end its print edition as soon as this fall. I really hate it when media outlets die in some form, but truly: who is running that ship into the ground?]

There is a huge trend the media is not capturing (maybe because Bobby already did last year) where Internet petitions target Christian groups for taking a stand on something. We saw it with TOMS Shoes and Focus on the Family, Starbucks and Willow Creek, Exodus International and Apple, Komen and Planned Parenthood. These stories aren’t new, but taken all together, you have one big scared group of powerful people. Can a CEO of a non-religious corporation take a personal view about anything? Will the free market and the Internet allow that?

These are huge questions that probably started back when the Southern Baptists boycotted Disney pre-Internet days. A fun question to ask would be: did conservative Christians set up a system to backfire on themselves when popular opinion goes against them? Another fun question would be: who is the loudest right now when the country is literally divided in half on some of these issues? Are corporations ever going to be able to give to any charitable organizations that have opinions? Do people really want a world where Bill Gates can’t give millions of dollars to religious organizations to mitigate AIDS? Anyone can stop eating at Chick-fil-A, but should the Internet scare corporate CEOs into bland nothingness? Is corporate money vs. a CEO’s personal time and money separate from one another? There are so many legitimate questions to be asking that have nothing to do with what’s actually being written.

A friend posted the following on Facebook:

I also can’t help but notice a disproportionate amount of criticism being leveled at Chick-fil-A compared with that of a company like American Apparel, whose CEO is basically a sexual predator.

Hey, media, let’s direct all this rage equally. Am I going to go out and eat Chick-fil-A? Who cares! Oh, wait, if I don’t care, am I saying something about what I believe? I don’t even know anymore. Thank you, Internet, for destroying my appetite for anything. It’s been a rough week for the media and the Internet. People are on vacation, not everyone can cover the Colorado shootings, reporters are high strung and under pressures now more than ever. But please, use this energy appropriately. Do not simply honor the Internet gods on this story.

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  • R9

    Why does opposition to gay marriage need to be shocking before it’s deemed newsorthy?

    There seems to be a GR sentiment that if a stance is based on a traditional and long-standing belief it’s not a big deal. But given that the rights of, and public acceptance of gay people is an ongoing issue, I have to dispute that.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    R9, we already knew where Dan Cathy stood on this issue. So how is it news? Separate it out from marriage. What new thing are we learning here?

  • Jim Chandler

    Why would any opposition to homosexual marriage be deemed newsworthy?

    As far as acceptance goes, Mr. Cathy never said there would be limits on who ate at his restaurant. I have never been asked my sexual preference.

    I wonder why Christians are villified for taking a stance on what they believe in.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jim, sometimes it is newsworthy. If Obama opposed gay marriage, that would be newsworthy, right? :) This time, though, it isn’t.

  • Scott Hutcheson

    Nice selective quoting Sarah.

    Lets look at what the entire quote is shall we?

    “…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’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about”

    AND

    “It’s very clear in Romans chapter 1, if we look at society today, we see all the twisted up kind of stuff that’s going on. Washington trying to redefine the definition of marriage and all the other kinds of things that we go—if you go upstream from that, in Romans chapter 1, you will see that because we have not acknowledged God and because we have not thanked God, that we have been left victim to the foolishness of our own thoughts, and as result, we are suffering the consequences of a society and culture who has not acknowledged God or not thanked God—he’s left us to a deprived mind. It’s tragic and we live in a culture of that today.”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    R9:

    You over reacted. We simply think that traditional points of view deserve accurate news coverage.

    Oh, that First Amendment thing matters, too.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    SCOTT:

    The quote you shared is from a different interview and I covered that in my post. That quote is fair game. Sarah and I are simply noting that (a) these views are not new, but old news and (b) much of the MSM coverage of the Baptist Press story quoted him saying things IN THAT INTERVIEW that he did not say.

    Quote that earlier interview? Sure. That’s journalism. Just keep the facts straight.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Scott Hutcheson, You’re right I did selective quoting, except that I quoted…which the media hasn’t done, as Terry pointed out. I quoted what I felt was the most appropriate to what people are reacting against, which is the fact that Cathy opposes gay marriage. Do you have links for the MILLIONS? I’m not saying it’s not true. Let’s use links and not use words like “hate group” because it’s non specific. Scott, no one here at GetReligion cares how you feel about Chick-Fil-A, how your personal beliefs work itself out in which company you support. We’re here to talk about journalism. The end.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Try to focus on the journalism issues, folks, and not turn this thread into another Religious Right vs. gays war.

    Focus on the journalism issues raised in my post and Sarah’s post.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Scott, you might do a lot of reading, but you gotta branch out some, too. Southern Poverty Law Center? C’mon.

    Can anyone honestly say that the media are being objective about what the guy said and that they’re not actively promoting a particular social agenda? Regardless of one’s own position on that agenda is beside the point. And it’s nice when the media affirm one’s own position. But is that what the media are supposed to do? Advocacy? Frenzy-whipping?

    Have any of you read the story about the college kid who was killed while walking along the road? He was from California, but was participating in Crossroads when he was struck by a car in Indiana. No? I don’t blame you. The only news source for this story is the organization’s own press release and some blogs by people who knew the kid.

    Why is the Chick-Fil-A guy’s quote news? Why the huge frenzy? And is this what the media are about? Well, then, it’s not about news. It’s about politics. And is there any reason based on these stories not to believe the charge that mainstream media are simply engaging in partisan politics?

    And considering the kind of onslaught that has been fostered by the media, all the anger and such, why is not the media guilty of inciting hate in this case? Is it because only certain kinds of people can be victims?

  • Martha

    I don’t mind stupidity on the Internet because, to be frank, I’ve gotten into dumb arguments over trivia myself.

    I do mind when allegedly responsible public officials, such as the Mayor of Boston, sends this kind of letter to a business. Did His Honour read the actual interview and not the headlines on the other stories? I doubt it, somehow.

    Grabbing cheap publicity for political gain is all part of the circus, I know, but this kind of abuse of position cannot be legal – is it?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Comments not applying directly to journalism will be deleted. There are thousands of threads you can join. You will not be invited to this conversation if you don’t have something to say about journalism.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I liked the CNN list of religious businesses, and was reminded of a fellow who’s father-in-law ran a local business (in Norman, Okla. maybe) that gave away a tithe of the company profits, but also save 10%, then when business was slow, instead of layoffs, they paid their workers to do projects in the community.

    What set the few neurons left in my head to firing is that I’m thinking that a lot of local businesses have religious roots. I also have a fondness for well-done local religion stories (think: Ann Rodgers).

  • dalea

    The missing context here seems to be that this is a story about business and religion. It seems to be rare for the head of a large scale business, one that deals directly with the public, to take positions on controversial public issues. I can’t really think of any other example. Usually, the CEO has his PR people issue a statement about how the company honors all who participate in this vital forum of discourse etc. It is rare to hear a CEO speak directly on an issue, take a firm position and speak so clearly. That may be part of what drives the coverage, this is just so rare. No corporatese, no PR evasions, no flackery. Very unusual.

    It would be interesting to see how the business press is covering the topic. AIR from economic history, usually businessmen who took such strong stands were Quakers, like the Cadburys and Rowantrees, candymakers, who refused to buy sugar grown by slaves.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    FWIW, ABC News just made the same misrepresentation of Cathy’s statement as discussed here, and the mayor of Chicago was shown saying he will keep Chick-fil-a from opening a store that on which they have started construction.

    This whole episode has set me off thinking about obsession. Is the media reflecting the culture, or seeking to control it?

  • Allen B

    Brilliant piece. Absolutely brilliant piece about a non-story story that has become the story that won’t die. Bravo.

  • Wendy Weber

    My impression from reading the quotes was it was a recent interview and he was reiterating a position. The Boy Scouts recently did the same and are in the middle of a similar backlash. …

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    This sounds strangely like the press gang up on Manny Pacquiao, where he backed traditional marriage, and suddenly was bashed for quotes he did not make.

    And then there is the Carrie Prejean scandal…and many here in the Philippines were convinced Shamcey Supsup lost Miss Universe by saying she’d chose her faith over her boyfriend…which a lot of folks thought was a strange question when the usual question is about fluffy things…

  • Sue McGee

    Oh my gosh, it seems that people really do think it’s news. People on the Internet are just discovering that Chick-fil-A, which is closed on Sundays, is a Christian-run business with a Christian owner who believes in traditional Christian doctrines. There is nothing wrong with still having beliefs in American Values. He is not saying anything obversive. And, he is not judging Gay people or anyone else. He is just saying he believes in traditional values and biblical principles and he has a right to do that. There is really nothing noteworth about that and people have a choice in which restaurant they wish to visit.

  • Ron

    I applaud the two editorial writers of the Chicago Tribune who, despite their personal liberal beliefs and support of gay marriage, have written pieces today critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s comments that the city should block CFA from being able to open more restaurants in Chicago. The Trib’s Steve Chapman writes, “Chick-fil-A executives have the right to think and say what they want about political and moral issues … why don’t we let the citizens of Chicago decide whether they want to boycott the chain over gay marriage?”

    Do we really want a country where the mayor of conservative Abeline, Texas, demands the shut down of Apple stores because they support gay marriage? Or, the mayor of similarly conservative Provo, Utah closes Starbucks shops because they embrace same-sex marriage? I pray not. This kind of modern day McCarthyism must be called out by more media members for what it is.

  • John M.

    Sarah,

    You are in rare form here. I hope you have a summer vacation coming up soon. :)

    And I agree with the calls for better coverage of the church/state issues involved in Boston and Chicago.

    -John

  • Alicia

    Excellent post.

  • Eric

    Sarah — Our country is literally divided in half? Really?

    I agree with the comments that say journalists should be concerned about the First Amendment issues raised when mayors call for punishment of a company based on the religious and political views of its executives.

  • Lori B.

    Great post on this crazy non-story story. You know it’s bad when my 11-year-old son, who is not known for paying attention to details, recognizes the lunacy of it all. He was reading my Facebook feed over my shoulder and saw something about the dust up over the Chick-fil-A CEO. He piped up, “Of course he’s conservative. He’s a Christian. They are CLOSED on Sundays. Who didn’t know he was conservative?!” Note to reporters, when an 11-year-old thinks it’s an old story, you probably shouldn’t write it…

  • Elisa

    It’s not about just discovering the bias. It’s about letting others know about the problem. I’m a lifelong confirmed Christian. Dan Cathy is, in my opinion acting in a way that he is inviting steps such as boycott. Please don’t write this off as nothing. It does matter! Every moment that we demonstrate anything other than LOVE to those around us, is a moment that we are not acting in a Christ-like manner! Don’t mistake my effort to remind my Christian brothers and sisters to love one another and leave the judgement to God, with a trivial movement about any one business!!!

  • Elenor

    So, you seem to be pretty upset about all this “shock” in the “media,” that old enemy of yours. The point of all this shock not to “vilify Christians when they stand up for their beliefs” but to make people aware that when they buy from Chik-fil-A, they are supporting hate campaigns. It’s all about the money, and making sure people know where their money is going. That’s all. It’s not particularly shocking that Dan Cathy is against people loving each other, just noteworthy that buying a chicken sandwich supports that hate. No need to get your feathers ruffled. Some of us just don’t want to support hate. By the way, I think Christians who hate give Christianity a bad name. “Christian love,” anybody? Also, I really hope that “Christian” doesn’t equal “conservative” in your minds. They’re not synonymous.

    But then again, I’m not a Christian, so why should you listen to me?

  • Julia

    When did disagreement morph into hate?

  • http://!)! Passing By

    When you quit hating, Elenor, you won’t see hate in people who disagree with you.

    So, Elisa, when Disneyworld set up Gay Days at their parks, were they “inviting steps such as boycott”?

    And by obsessing on something that affects a small percentage of gay people who actually want to get married (and gay people comprise 2%-3% of the population att the most), are not journalists inviting steps such as boycott?

    My working hypothesis is that the media is in the control of people for whom the Civil Rights movement of the 60s was the apotheosis of civilization. The media leaders either there or were mentored by people who were. These people believe that “being gay” is the same sort of thing as “being black”. Why they believe that, I don’t know, but I do know I read it 20 years ago in the newspaper, promoted by that famous geneticist, Ann Landers. Ann said it, so it must be true.

  • Bethany

    Can someone explain how this isn’t just out right libel? I’d have to go back and study some articles, but I’m pretty sure at least some have simply called him anti-gay, a very vague and loaded term that often seems to come along with all kinds of accusations of bigotry and discrimination. This “story” has definitely had a negative impact on his business and reputation.

  • Chris Licciardello

    Bethany – libel implies that someone is reporting something that isn’t true. Simply reporting what the man says isn’t libel, even if it hurts his business.

    And regarding the “disproportionate amount of criticism” leveled upon Chik-Fil-A as opposed to American Apparel – the two companies are not even remotely similar. What is Chik-Fil-A’s customer base compared to American Apparel’s? I bet it’s 10,000 to 1. Of course they’re going to get more coverage.

  • John M.

    Chris,

    Per Wikipedia, American Apparel is about a half a billion in annual revenues, vs. Chik-Fil-A’s $4B. That’s just a proxy for customer count, but it’s probably not far off.

    Oh, and how big of a business would a sexual predator have to run before anyone in the media decided to whip up a frenzy?

    Passing By,

    I think you’re not far off on your hypothesis, but I’d posit that it’s the sexual revolution, not the Civil Rights movement.

    -John

  • Thinkling

    Simply reporting what the man says isn’t libel

    If all they did was simply reporting what the man says, then we would not be having the discussion. Trouble is, that is not what they did, words were put into his mouth.

    What is the old saying? A lie gets ten miles away before truth gets out the door.

  • Don Harper

    Since we are talking journalism here, how ethical is it to cover Rahm Emanuel’s bashing of Cathy’s Christian values as being “not Chicago values”, while ignoring his warm reception of Louis Farrakan, whose anti-homosexual views are very well and widely known? Seems the hypocrisy is rather wide-spread as well.

  • James

    Do you think the msm media should ignore the fact that people are angry with Chik-fil-A because its founder makes incendiary comments and donates millions of dollars to hate groups? It seem to me rather than wanting the media to get religion, you want them to ignore what religion has become in this country.

  • sari

    James,
    The point here is that the media created this particular storm. It’s as if things got a little too quiet, and someone felt compelled to bring the pot back up to a boil. Dan Cathy’s remarks are completely consistent with remarks he’s made in the past.

    One should distinguish between actual hate groups, those which seek to hurt or destroy a given population, and groups of people with whom one disagrees. Many, many Americans cannot reconcile same-sex marriage with their religious beliefs, but harbor no ill will towards non-heterosexuals.

  • James

    Sari, my dear grandmother in Louisiana said that she harbored no ill will against “coloreds,” as she called them, but her Southern Baptist pastor explained to her that mixing of the races was unbiblical. She was just unable to reconcile these biblical beliefs with the notion that Black people were entitled to civil rights. But she was not a hater and really disliked it when Northerners talked about Southerners as though they were bigots.

  • sari

    The difference here, James, is that the Bible explicitly forbids sexual relations between men–explicitly, whereas it makes no mention of “mixing of the races”. You and many others extrapolate rather than acknowledge that the two, a biblical prohibition and a human’s interpretation, are equivalent. They are not. This is a huge part of the media’s problem: most journalists lack the background or inclination to do the research. And, even worse, if they dislike the results, they simply ignore the data.

  • James

    Sari, Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality. He did condemn divorce. I don’t see Christians agitating for constitutional amendments forbidding divorce. The opposition to civil rights for homosexuals is not really based on the bible; it is an example of using religion to reinforce prejudice. And my late Grandmother could certainly quote Biblical passages that seem to justify discrimination against Blacks, and which were regularly quoted in the South.

  • John M.

    James,

    How dare you judge the motivations of others in this debate. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    And go read Jesus’ teachings about divorce again. I think you’ll find no room there for gay “marriage”.

    -John

  • James

    John, the Bible condemns lots of things. Pork, for example. Lots of people, especially Jews, follow the commandment not to eat pork. However, Jews in this country at least do not attempt to use the government to force other people not to eat pork. If you believe the Bible forbids same-sex marriage (and many, many people believe that it does not), then do not marry a person of the same sex.


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