And now the kiss-in at Chick-fil-A

Let’s do another quick recap on media coverage of the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Yesterday we discussed the decision of Mark Krzos, a Fort Myers News-Press reporter, to publicly disparage the people he was covering for his local paper. We already updated the post to show that his editor responded to the controversy but you can also see his public statement denouncing the reporter’s comments at Romenesko.

I asked readers for examples of good and bad coverage and I think it’s worth looking at the links to good coverage. Some were great. But one of the things I find interesting is that many small and mid-size papers seemed to do better than the big hitters.

Over at The Weekly Standard, Michael Warren wrote an interesting post about the long lines and traffic jams that Chick-fil-A outlets across the country experienced. The rumors that Chick-fil-A set a sales record yesterday were confirmed by the Associated Press. The links below might not take you to the August 2 papers anymore, but I clicked on them yesterday and Warren accurately characterized the papers:

But you wouldn’t know anything about the national phenomenon by reading the front pages of most of the country’s leading newspapers. There’s no mention of Chick-fil-A on the front pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and the Boston Globe. The front pages of USA Today, the Dallas Morning News, and the Houston Chronicle have small headlines about the restaurant, while Chick-fil-A’s hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, fits in a story below the fold under the heading, “Chick-fil-A Controversy.” And the front pages of major news websites are quiet in their coverage as well.

He goes on to look at the scant coverage inside the papers, too. I still am surprised that the Washington Post only ran a photograph, sans story, of the event. It’s just weird news sense. Warren also pointed out that “the Newseum’s collection of the top ten newspaper covers from around the country seems to recognize the biggest national news story of the day. The papers covering the story aren’t just located in the South, Chick-fil-A’s regional base; smaller papers from Colorado, Ohio, New York, and California were all over the story.” And they really were some good covers. And some bad covers, but they got that the issue was of interest to readers. Again, this is not rocket science. At the very least, a photo of the lines snaking out Chick-fil-A doors or filling up parking lots and drive-thrus is a good idea for a front pager.

Whether a story gets prominent coverage, snuck-in-the-back-section coverage or no coverage helps readers identify its importance or significance. That so many prominent papers left the story uncovered or meekly covered tells us that they didn’t view it as important.

Part of that could be related to confusion about what the “appreciation day” meant. I can think of no better example of that than the video embedded above. It’s shaky but it’s some dude walking around and then trying to help the CBS affiliate in Atlanta find parking. But, they explain, they don’t need help because they’re leaving. They thought it was going to be a protest but it’s only “appreciation day” so they’re leaving. You have to defecate on some cop cars to get good coverage, I guess. Just kidding.

Reader Martha writes:

If I understand correctly, there is going to be a same-sex kiss-in protest at Chick-fil-A restaurants – I don’t know if this is national or at selected ones.

What will be instructive is to compare the coverage of this and the ‘day of eating chicken sandwiches’ yesterday. Will the national media decide this is newsworthy? What will the relative numbers look like? If twenty people show up for tomorrow, will that garner as much or more, or more prominent/more detailed, coverage than Chick-fil-A restaurant running out of chicken due to the increased demand?

Yes. I’m unsure if the lead-up to this event has been covered well. I did see notice about it in many stories I read about the “appreciation day” but I haven’t had time to dig through the coverage. Let us know if there are good or bad stories on this protest. I did see this Los Angeles Times story that is, of course, currently on the front-page of its web site. It tells us that “GLAAD” (it doesn’t spell out the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, for some reason) is backing a variety of protests against the company, including a same-sex kiss-in at Chick-fil-A outlets. The reporter uses the  Southern Poverty Law Center as its basis for calling various conservative groups “anti-gay.” Reporters should not use that outlet as an arbiter of such things.

The SPLC likes to go after groups with political views it opposes by designating them as “hate groups.” You might be more familiar with the term “hate group” when it’s used to refer to groups that incite violence. The group’s most recent hate group report was met with guffaws for the overwrought categorization of some “Patriot” groups and including pick-up artists on its list. A friend on Twitter said that the working definition of an SPLC hate group is nothing more than a group that SPLC hates. In coverage on hot button issues such as this, the media are pretty good at not uncritically repeating claims from sources on one end of the culture battles but not as good when the target of criticism is different.

Anyway, the story tries to include some different perspectives, such as gay and lesbian supporters who question the planned protest. Except that should have been done better, I think. If you thought buying a chicken sandwich was a weird way to protest, this one might also arch some eyebrows:

“We are encouraging those of us who support LGBT rights and LGBT equality to show up at their local Chick-fil-A tomorrow and kiss someone of the same sex,” said Carly McGehee, a New York-based political activist who started the idea for the kiss-in.

The campaigns follow Wednesday’s stunning turnout for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, a day on which Americans were urged to support the company. The company did not release sales figures but said it was a “record-setting day.”

Nationwide, at least 15,000 people have agreed to participate in the kiss-in, McGehee said. But even among LGBT supporters, some wonder whether such an in-your-face act might be too provocative, or amount to taunting.

Unfortunately, the only comments from people questioning the protest come from anonymous people on the Causes.com web site page urging participation. It would be nice to have some names attached to the people characterizing the protest as “hate-filled,” “aggressive,” “provocative” and “inciting anger.” Anonymous critiques aren’t fair to proponents of such activity.

The piece ends with a statement from the company:

“We understand from news reports that Friday may present yet another opportunity for us to serve with genuine hospitality, superior service and great food.”

Not bad. It might be nice to have a few other perspectives, too. I’m sure we’ll those included in subsequent coverage. Let us know if you see anything particularly good or bad.

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  • Dan Arnold

    Mollie,

    I suspect the big papers will cover the kiss-in more than the appreciation day but I have to say that I find it shocking that they had so little coverage of the latter. Heck, it was even all over the television news. But covering the appreciation day could be construed as supporting a position these news entities consider hateful. I recommend the the book The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt to help understand what is going on here and how we lean toward a confirmatory bias when looking for and at information.

    That said, I consider your treatment of the SPLC truly problematic. You uncritically quote a friend as to how the SPLC derives its lists while at the same time criticizing the media for being uncritical. Aren’t you a reporter? Don’t reporters on this blog get criticized for not quoting what the subject says about itself? So shouldn’t you at the very least mention how the SPLC says it derives its lists? I know this blog entry is, in essence, an opinion piece but OP’s that treat those they disagree with fairly are better in that they come across less ideological and therefore may be more likely to be heard by those who disagree. And didn’t someone somewhere say something about treating others the way you want to be treated?

  • Chris M

    The local CBS affiliate had no mention of the Aug 1st Appreciation Day, but had the Kiss In splashed across their website in more than one place. The Orlando Sentinel had separate articles for each event.

  • Martha

    There’s at least one Facebook page up for the Kiss-In, and one commenter in Grove City, Ohio (I think it’s Ohio) wants to head on to her local Chick-fil-A to perform her “gay song” there at 8 p.m.

    She says she contacted “contacted 3 news stations and 2 news papers”, so I imagine how that worked versus what coverage was given to the ‘eat a sandwich in support’ day can be compared tomorrow?

    What’s more interesting is the very rapid response to Adam M. Smith and his ill-considered Youtube video. I don’t know that I’m all that thrilled he got fired from his job (the company getting him to make a public apology should have been enough) but I think the irony there is that the same impetus of public opinion that he tried to mobilise for the same end, that of taking action to cause the shut-down or loss of revenue to an expression of views of which he disapproved, has been turned against him.

  • James

    Whether a story gets prominent coverage, snuck-in-the-back-section coverage or no coverage helps readers identify its importance or significance. That so many prominent papers left the story uncovered or meekly covered tells us that they didn’t view it as important.

    So why does that generally mean that the regional papers “did better” and the national papers “did worse”? If it wasn’t an important news story that a bunch of people ate fast food (and, given that there is no evidence at all that the public’s continually-growing support of equality for LGBT people was in any way affected by people eating chicken sandwiches, it’s an easy argument to make), then the national papers did “better” on the non-story by giving it the lack of coverage it deserved, while the regional papers gave it an inordinate amount of attention at the expense of other news.

    [off-topic comments deleted]

  • bandit

    James says:
    August 3, 2012, at 1:00 pm

    Project much? Because people have a different view of what marriage means they’re a ‘hate group’?

  • Chris M
  • James

    [deleted for off-topic comments]

  • Jon

    James:

    “1. Engage the contents of the post. This is a journalism weblog. Please strive to comment on journalism issues, not your opinions of the doctrinal or political beliefs of other people.” — GetReligion comment policy

  • Martha

    James, if eating chicken sandwiches is not noteworthy and limited to no coverage is the appropriate response, then neithe is people kissing noteworthy and limited to no coverage is the appropriate response.

    If, however, event B gets all the column inches and photo spreads that event A did not, then this is a journalism issue as to why event B is more worthy of such coverage than event A and on what grounds that decision was made.

    Because if “500 extra people ate chicken sandwiches at my local outlet than would usually eat there” is not important enough for a reporter to cover, then “Two fruity girls smooched outside my local outlet” – while it may have enlivened said reporter’s lunch hour – is not worthy of coverage either – unless it is a protest or a demonstration or some kind of political or nationally-organised event.

    And if the reason 500 extra people turned up is also a protest, demonstration, or political or nationally-organised event, then surely it is worthy of coverage also?

  • James

    “1. Engage the contents of the post. This is a journalism weblog. Please strive to comment on journalism issues, not your opinions of the doctrinal or political beliefs of other people.”

    The contents of the post included a claim that SPLC was somehow inaccurate in labeling those who think LGBT people aren’t human beings deserving of equal rights as “hate groups.” My comment took issue with that claim; as that claim was made in the post, my comment is directly relevant to the contents of the post.

    The post also included the assumption that newspapers who provided front-page coverage to people eating at a fast-food restaurant were somehow “better” than those that did not write about people eating at a fast-food restaurant, rather than providing an argument for the newsworthiness of people eating chicken sandwiches by showing the actual effect of people eating chicken sandwiches on any national issue.

    My comment took issue with that assumption, suggesting that if people eating chicken sandwiches at a fast-food restaurant proved to have no effect on the continually-developing national consensus that LGBT people are human beings who deserve equal rights, those outlets that chose not to cover what ended up being a non-story would, in fact, be the “better” outlets. It was, thus, also directly relevant to the content of the post.

  • Justin

    So where is the on-the-ground reporting on this? Any live shots from Chik-Fil-A’s with couples kissing or crowds cheering them on? Any words from locals stations on protests?

    All I saw so far was from CNN’s “IReport,” which is always a mixed bag. MSNBC said word of plans, but nothing of results yet.

    For all of the front page headlines and top stories on the news, I’d expect a lot more going on. (and for the record, I’m about 300 miles from the nearest resturant not on a campus)

  • Chris M

    “My comment took issue with that claim; as that claim was made in the post, my comment is directly relevant to the contents of the post.”

    I find it awfully interesting that you accuse the post of including assumptions needing challenging while loading your own posts with assumptions and accusatory innuendo.

  • Another James :)

    James,
    Good name!!! I like it :)

    I’m not sure Mollie was trying to say that newspapers who put those supporting chick-fil-a in the front page were doing a good job and those who didn’t weren’t doing a good job. Basically, I think she’s trying say “Is there a bias in the media when it comes to coverage of those supporting chick-fil-a versus those who are protesting against chick-fil-a?” Do those who support chick-fil-a get sent to the back or get ignored within a particular newspaper while those who protest are put in the front? I believe that such a bias exists.

    It would be nice to hear more about the SPLC. While it might be a controversial organization in some respects, it is still highly reputable. Wikipedia says that it’s named as a resource by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in their fight against hate crimes, so that’s pretty prestigious and I would think an ok resource to quote…

    (Below is outside of the journalism stuff, so I understand if it’s taken down…)

    As for this comment: “Please indicate, with no references to any form of religious text and without making claims that would apply to other marriages that our laws do consider valid, what exactly (aside from gender, which cannot legally be grounds for discrimination) differentiates a position opposed to marriage equality, from a position opposed to interracial marriage or a position that only one religion’s marriages should be valid.”

    Please refer to “What is Marriage” by Sherif Giris, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson. You can find it doing a google search (don’t forget the quotes around “What is Marriage”). It created quite an interesting debate in blogosphere world in 2010 when it came out. While you might not agree with the arguments made, I believe it will fulfill your above request.

  • Martha

    James, I’m confused. You say the national day of appreciation for Chick-fil-A was nothing more than people eating chicken sandwiches, so the newspapers ignoring it was a good thing to do.

    But it was also simultaneously an expression of support for a hate group, so the newspapers ignoring it was a good thing to do.

    You didn’t, so far as I can make out, address the national kiss-in day. Now, what I (and I think) others were trying to get a handle on was this: would the coverage of both events, given that they were aimed at the same organisation, be the same? If not, why not?

    In other words, by what criteria do news and other media gauge the newsworthiness of an event and how much attention it receives? Now, you must forgive our cynicism, but I think most of us commenting on here expect the national newspapers to (a) give limited coverage to the event supporting Chick-fil-A on the grounds that you express: this is a hate group as well as a purveyor of fried chicken and it does not deserve the oxygen of publicity, and (b) the kiss-in would get widespread coverage and/or more acreage (if the journalists here will pardon the term).

    Again, option (b) can be sub-divided into two reasons: (i) the one “Private Eye” uses about “The Daily Mail” splashing pictures of pretty young women getting their GCSE results all over their pages (the “phwoar! fruity girls!” angle, and even better if it’s “phwoar! fruity girls snogging!” in this instance) and (ii) the protest is deserving because it’s on the ‘right’ side.

    If news media are in the business of being advocates, okay. If, however, they are in the business of covering the news – whether it’s something bad or something good happening – then equal coverage for equal events, yes?

  • sari

    http://www.statesman.com/news/local/chick-fil-a-comes-with-a-side-of-2427071.html

    My local paper’s take on the issue. Pretty balanced, imo. The reporter got the Cathy quote right, interviewed people from both camps as well as the president of a local PR firm. Shortish, but everyone’s voices heard with no opinion or histrionics.

  • Jettboy

    Since it has been a day later, what surprised me was the actual lack of coverage for the “kiss-in” that almost never happened. There were some shots of protestors gathered outside in small groups with the usual quotes from those standing around, but not much more. Maybe I am wrong and perception is everything, but the expected glorification of the “kiss-in” never materialized. I actually heard more about it from Fox News than I did anywhere else including print.

  • The Old Bill

    Perhaps it’s because in ancient times I was forced to spend so much of my misspent youth getting the Trivium rammed down my reluctant throat, but the issue of definition needs addressing to cover the story properly. (I am not going to argue the merits.)

    Question One: What is the the institution of marriage? Question Two: Are gay people being excluded?

    If marriage is simply the legal arrangement of any two people who profess a desire to enter it, then the answer is yes. The coverage suggests that this is the position of most in the media.

    If marriage is the joining of male and female for the procreation and care of future generations, the answer is no. Gay people can marry; they cannot marry those of the same sex.

    Question Three: Does government have the authority to define marriage? If so, what criteria should it use? Opinion polls? Popularity? A post above suggests that any religious text must be excluded. But the tapestry of history is woven with threads of religious texts. We pull them out at no small risk. And when covering this story, words like “hate” and “bigotry” should be used far more carefully than they are.

  • Justin

    Jetboy,

    Our local NBC news affiliate lead their 10pm newscast with the report that … no one showed up to protest at the mini-CFA at the University of Minnesota.

    http://www.kare11.com/news/article/985542/396/Chick-fil-A-kiss-in-protest-bypasses-Minnesota

    (Warning: auto-playing ad and video)

    I’ve seen a few pictures and a few unfortunate signs and T-Shirts, but nothing that gives an idea of the scope or size of the protest.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I didn’t see the broadcast news last night, but local coverage in the local paper here. Apparently they had 11 protesters at one location here in Fort Worth. The Dallas Morning News story is behind a pay wall.

  • MJBubba

    Since I commented with my local paper coverage on Thursday, here is the Saturday article from the Memphis Commercial Appeal: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/aug/03/same-sex-supporters-to-join-protest-of-chick-fil/

    It is slightly shorter, got slightly more prominent placement, but is pretty one-sided (favorable to the gays) compared to the previous article, which was scrupulously neutral.

  • sari

    Today’s Austin American Statesman provided no coverage of the kiss-in. In yesterday’s article, leaders of the GLBTQ community said they planned not to participate, but the paper ignored the national, if there was one, as well–surprising as the paper skews mildly to the left. The previous article (see #15 on this thread) was placed on pg. 5 or 6 of section A.

  • St. Ralph

    Does the Huffington Post count as journalism for the purposes of this question?

    It published more than one hit piece on Christians in the wake of the Chickerfuffle, but this is my favorite:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rowe/the-great-chickfila-snake_b_1739428.html)

    Various total donation amounts have been reported for CFA’s “anti-gay” giving ($1.9 million, $3 million, $5 million, etc.), depending on how many years’ worth of numbers one crunches and who defines what is “anti-gay.” Nevertheless, every story I’ve looked at leads with the so-called “hate group,” the Family Research Council, and uses sound bites from that group’s rhetoric to characterize all the recipients of CFA funds.

    Want to know how much money the Family Research Council received, out of the total $5 million?

    A thousand bucks. That’s all. What we have here is a thousand-dollar tail being used to wag a five-million-dollar dog. By pure association, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is being painted as a rabid hate group, for no other reason than receiving money from CFA.

    I haven’t seen any attempt in any story by any reporter to place CFA’s giving to outside groups within the larger context of all of CFA’s charitable activities. One source reports that CFA’s WinShape Foundation is funded at more than $8 million annually. Well, then, $5 million over several years must just be a drop in a larger chicken bucket. Where did the rest of the money go? We might be able to find out, but the news media won’t help us.

  • MJBubba

    St. Ralph (#22), I don’t consider the HuffPo to be mainstream. Regarding the charitable work supported by Chick-fil-A, see the article by CNN. Here is a key quote:

    WinShape spends the vast majority of its money on internal programs like its camps, which cost $5 million to run in 2010, and foster homes, which cost $3.2 million that year. By comparison, the organization gave $1,000 to Family Research Council in 2010 and $1,000 to Exodus International, a group that for years promoted so-called conversion therapy for gays, though the group is now reassessing that stance….

    “WinShape provides camping programs for more than 13,000 girls and boys annually and 14 foster homes caring for more than 100 children,” the statement continued. “In addition, Chick-fil-A has awarded more than $30 million in Restaurant Team Member college scholarships to hourly employees.”

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/03/chick-fil-a-controversy-shines-light-on-companys-charitable-giving/comment-page-27/

  • MJBubba

    St. Ralph, I should have pointed out that WinShape is the name of Chick-fil-A’s foundation for charitable work.


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