Don’t have a cow over Chick-fil-A, man!

My post on the unlikely friendship between Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer prompted GetReligion reader Joel to comment:

I’ve seen it pointed out that these days, the real story is to be found in the comments on a story. The comments on the HuffPo piece seem to bear that out depressingly.

I replied:

I don’t know about that philosophy, Joel. My motto is: “Never read the comments.” Except on GetReligion, of course.

I was half-joking but half-serious.

The journalism website Poynter.org noted this past fall that NPR and other news organizations were tightening comment moderation to improve conversation.

In a survey of readers, NPR received this feedback on comments:

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MSM’s upside-down Chick-fil-A sandwich

Remember when pickles, buttered buns and fried chicken filets were all we could talk about over the summer?

I’m referring, of course, to the big brouhaha over Chick-fil-A (catch up here, here, here, here and here if you happened to be stranded on a deserted island during that time).

Now comes an update from USA Today.

The headline:

Chick-fil-A thrives because of support for families

The top of the story:

Chick-fil-A has something not all that surprising to crow about.

Consumer use, visits and ad awareness were all up measurably in the third quarter, at a time the chicken chain enjoyed a remarkable outpouring of support from consumers, reports research specialist Sandelman & Associates.

Intense national media and social media attention — much of it positive — was heaped on the chain three months ago, after President Dan Cathy told a religious publication that his company was “guilty as charged” in supporting the biblical definition of the family unit.

Supporters of the Atlanta-based chicken chain caused long lines and traffic jams across the country as they rallied for Chick-fil-A. At the same time, a few gay rights groups called for boycotts, but company executives reiterated their long-standing love and appreciation for all customers — even those who disagree with Cathy’s position.

Oops! I am messing with you. That is not actually how USA Today reported the story.

Here is the actual headline:

Chick-fil-A thrives despite gay rights issue

And the actual lede:

Chick-fil-A has something unexpected to crow about.

Consumer use, visits and ad awareness were all up measurably in the third quarter, at a time the chicken chain appeared to be taking a public relations drubbing, reports research specialist Sandelman & Associates.

Intense national media and social media attention — much of it negative — was heaped on the chain three months ago, after President Dan Cathy told a religious publication that his company was “guilty as charged” in supporting the biblical definition of the family unit.

Many gay rights groups called for boycotts, and company executives seemed to be put on the defensive. At the same time, supporters of the Atlanta-based chicken chain held rallies outside stores. The national media couldn’t get enough of it.

Hmmmm, not much subtlety in the worldview of the reporter cranking out that version of the story, huh?

A few journalistic questions: Who is the source on Chick-fil-A’s success being “unexpected?” At the closest Chick-fil-A to my office (and yes, I live in the Bible Belt), the drive-thru is a madhouse every day. Folks in orange vests direct traffic in the parking lot, and runners zip back and forth between the long line and the window swiping credit cards and delivering bags full of delectable chicken sandwiches.

Concerning “public relations drubbing,” again, who is the source (besides the bias of the writer and his editor)?

About the “negative” social media attention, any statistics available on how many folks tweeted and Facebooked positive posts about Chick-fil-A vs. negative messages? Or is this a simple case of a MSM bubble?

Later in the story, there’s this:

Chick-fil-A declined comment.

Last month, the chain seemed to soften its tone. “Our intent is not to support political or social agendas,” Steve Robinson, executive vice president for marketing for Chick-fil-A, said in a statement. Chick-fil-A’s culture, he said, “is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

That softened tone sounds familiar. It’s almost as if the company said basically the same thing more than a year and a half ago before this latest controversy started. From a January 2011 statement by Cathy:

In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay. We have no agenda against anyone. At the heart and soul of our company, we are a family business that serves and values all people regardless of their beliefs or opinions. We seek to treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect, and believe in the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

We also believe in the need for civility in dialogue with others who may have different beliefs. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.

Keep reading, and PR execs quoted by USA Today try to figure out how Chick-fil-A overcame such a dreadful “PR disaster.”

Yeah, I wonder.

Image of Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day via Shutterstock 

Remember Chick-fil-A? Still making news!

Even as we head into beautiful fall color changes, we’re still talking about Chick-fil-A apparently.

No news becomes news apparently, if you read this Associated Press report that spends most of the story rehashing what happened earlier this summer.

Chick-fil-A is once again in the public relations fryer.

The controversy flared up this week when a Chicago politician said the company was no longer giving to groups that oppose same-sex marriage, angering Christian conservatives who supported Chick-fil-A this summer when its president reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage. Civil rights groups hailed the turnabout, yet the company never confirmed it and instead released two public statements, neither of which made Chick-fil-A’s position any clearer.

The events suggest the Southern franchise may be trying to steer clear of hot-button social issues while it expands in other, less conservative regions of the country. In its statement Thursday, the Georgia-based company said its corporate giving had for many months been mischaracterized.

Or here’s the headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Chick-fil-A vows to stop donating to anti-gay groups” that tmatt went over yesterday.

Perhaps there’s a style question going on, but does Chick-fil-A consider the groups “anti-gay”? I highly doubt they would use that language. Also, “vow” is a pretty strong word. So let’s look at what CFA actually said:

A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A’s giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas.

The LAT story has a funny attempt by the reporter to gauge all of social media’s reactions:

On social media, reaction was split.

“Yes, Chick-Fil-A was wrong but they’ve changed their policy and I think they should be thanked for that,” wrote user DoubtcastFletch.

But Twitter user Glam_Star77 accused the company of trying “to play neutral.”

“I feel like I’ve been betrayed,” the user wrote. “No integrity or ethics!”

An editor should have deleted that whole section. Why would you use 10 second reactions from Twitter instead of talking to real people on the street? Why not go to a food court and find out whether people choose or don’t choose Chick-fil-A? The social media plug screams laziness.

Hey, here’s an idea: Call real sources on the other side of the issue. It’s like these journalists were thinking, “Oh dear God in heaven, don’t make me talk to a religious traditionalist of any kind!”

Meanwhile, Focus on the Family released a CitizenLink story correcting media reports saying CFA would be stopping its donations to groups like Focus.

Contrary to reports first made by the gay-activist group The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) on Tuesday and later picked up by mainstream media outlets, Chick-fil-A and its charitable-giving arm, the WinShape Foundation, did not agree to stop making donations to groups that support the biblical definition of marriage in exchange for being allowed to open a franchise in Chicago.

…Moreover, many news agencies reported that Chick-fil-A had specifically agreed not to give money to Focus on the Family or the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM said Wednesday it has never received money from the foundation. Focus on the Family has.

This time it looks like the media is fishing for stories, pouncing on ones that seem to obvious. Sometimes the story isn’t as juicy as it appears and could be left alone. Remember, the Internet often honors stupid stories, so it takes discipline to resist them.

LATimes on Chick-fil-A: Where’s the journalism?

A long, long, time ago — almost a decade, in fact — there was a Los Angeles Times editor who wrote a letter to his section editors in which he defended solid, old-fashioned American journalism. You know, the kind that strives to accurately quote informed voices on both sides of controversial issues, perhaps even in a way that promotes informed, balanced, constructive debate and civic life.

The editor’s name was John Carroll. His famous memo started like this:

I’m concerned about the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, “politically correct” newspaper. Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer.

The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring “so-called counseling of patients.” I don’t think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it “so-called,” a phrase that is loaded with derision.

It was clear that most mainstream scientists were, at that time, discounting the abortion-breast cancer link. The issue, for Carroll, was that his staff made no attempt to talk to mainstream scientists who did support this stance. Of course, there were scientists — then and now — who believe they have evidence for this stance.

Instead of talking to scientists about science, on the pro-life side of the debate, the Los Angeles Times team elected to go in other directions. Carroll wrote:

The story makes a strong case that the link between abortion and breast cancer is widely discounted among researchers, but I wondered as I read it whether somewhere there might exist some credible scientist who believes in it.

Such a person makes no appearance in the story’s lengthy passage about the scientific issue. We do quote one of the sponsors of the bill, noting that he “has a professional background in property management.” Seldom will you read a cheaper shot than this. Why, if this is germane, wouldn’t we point to legislators on the other side who are similarly bereft of scientific credentials?

It is not until the last three paragraphs of the story that we finally surface a professor of biology and endocrinology who believes the abortion/cancer connection is valid. But do we quote him as to why he believes this? No. We quote his political views. Apparently the scientific argument for the anti-abortion side is so absurd that we don’t need to waste our readers’ time with it.

But why does this matter? What’s the point? For Carroll, the ultimate journalistic goal was to produce coverage that accurately and fairly represented the views of stakeholders on both sides of the debate. His bottom line?

We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times.

I’m no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it presents a profound philosophical, religious and scientific question, and I respect people on both sides of the debate. A newspaper that is intelligent and fair-minded will do the same.

I am well aware, obviously, that Carroll no longer edits the Times and that there have been many changes in that newsroom in the years since then.

Still, I would like GetReligion readers to think about the points that Carroll made while reading the following Los Angeles Times report about the decision by Chick-fil-A executives to go silent on issues linked to centuries of Christian teachings on marriage and family. As you read the story, search for representative, informed voices speaking for religious traditionalists — in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. — who would be troubled by this decision.

You do remember the case, right? Here’s the update:

Chick-fil-A will no longer donate money to anti-gay groups or discuss hot-button political issues after an executive’s controversial comments this summer landed the fast-food chain in the middle of the gay marriage debate.

Executives agreed in recent meetings to stop funding groups opposed to same-sex unions, including Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, according to Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno.

Earlier this summer, Moreno became a key critic of Chick-fil-A after the Atlanta company’s president, Dan Cathy, said in an interview that his business was “guilty as charged” of supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

When you click the “comment” option, please avoid several non-journalistic issues. We are not here to discuss the newspaper’s use of the term “anti-gay” to describe the nondenominational groups that received money from this foundation. Also, it is clear that pro-gay rights groups had every right to protest the religious beliefs and activities of Chick-fil-A leaders. The corporation’s leaders had every right to respond to the resulting media tsunami in the way that they did.

No, the purpose of this post is to ask if the current Times team produced a journalistic product that attempted, in any way, to take seriously the views of stakeholders on both sides of this debate. Find the conservative voices in this piece and compare their offerings, in size and serious content, to those of the gay-rights supporters who are asked to discuss this decision.

In light of the Carroll memo, what kind of news story is this? How seriously does this take the serious religious and legal arguments on both sides?

Good luck with that.

Brendan Eich nailed for his generic, private, anti-gay beliefs?

Yes, yes, yes, I know. Just try to imagine the mainstream press coverage if Brendan Eich had been a Chick-fil-A manager in, oh, some middle-American enclave like Mission, Kan., who was forced to resign because of his private financial support for gay rights.

No, I am not going there. To put it bluntly, I am waiting for the religion shoe to drop in the whole story of the Mozilla chief executive who was forced to step down because he once donated $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8, a campaign dedicated to defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

As one veteran GetReligion reader asked in a private email: “I’m not missing the part where they say he’s Catholic, Mormon, evangelical, whatever, am I? The faster gay marriage becomes accepted, the harder I think it is for someone to be against gay marriage without some driving religious belief.”

Unless I have missed something in the past hour or two, that is not a question that many journalists have been asking. Right now, the framing for this story is that his actions were anti-gay, not pro-something, something doctrinally and legally different.

Over at the normally gay-news-driven New York Times, this story is not receiving major attention. A “Bits” feature in the business pages does provide an interesting summary of the raging debates surrounding this case, including the fact that some liberals — including some in the gay community — are quite upset with the illiberal campaign by many “liberals” to punish Mozilla, while making Eich an untouchable in the highly influential tech world. Here is a key chunk of that report:

Mr. Eich’s departure from the small but influential Mountain View, Calif., company highlights the growing potency of gay-rights advocates in an area that, just a decade ago, seemed all but walled off to their influence: the boardrooms of major corporations. But it is likely to intensify a debate about the role of personal beliefs in the business world and raise questions about the tolerance for conservative views inside a technology industry long dominated by progressive and libertarian voices.

Andrew Sullivan, a prominent gay writer and an early, influential proponent of making same-sex marriage legal, expressed outrage over Mr. Eich’s departure on his popular blog, saying the Mozilla chief had been “scalped by some gay activists.”

“If this is the gay rights movement today — hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else — then count me out,” Mr. Sullivan wrote.

A number of gay rights advocates pointed out that their organizations did not seek Mr. Eich’s resignation. Evan Wolfson, a leading gay marriage advocate, said that this was a case of “a company deciding who best represents them and their values. There is no monolithic gay rights movement that called for this.”

The article also noted that Eich has consistently stressed, and so far no one has contradicted this, that he was committed to inclusiveness in the Mozilla workplace and had never discriminated. However, he has also asked not to be judged for his “private beliefs.” In a way, that is also interesting in that fierce defenders of the First Amendment have long argued for free expression, even in public (with others, yes, having the right to freely protest in return).

The Times article does note, concerning the clashes between old-school liberals and the new illiberal liberals:

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Pod people: Boy Scout leak and grassroots sourcing

I’ve done a couple of posts (here and here) on the Boy Scouts of America’s consideration of lifting its ban on openly gay members and adult leaders.

The New York Times reported today on a new development:

A leak from inside the Boy Scouts of America last month about discussions on possibly ending the group’s national ban on gay members changed the debate itself by creating an impression that change was imminent, according to scouting officials and taped comments from a meeting of scouting’s executive board obtained by The New York Times.

Those apparently false expectations were dashed days later when the board, under intense scrutiny it had never intended, deferred action.

The proposed shift in policy has been portrayed in news accounts mostly as a kind of trial balloon, floated to gauge sentiment about where scouting might go on a hugely divisive question. But the proposal, though seriously in consideration, was not supposed to become public at this moment, Scouts officials confirmed. The plan for the meeting this week was a quiet discussion behind closed doors, they said, free from the outside pressures that have buffeted scouting, especially since summer, when the organization reaffirmed its ban on gay scouts and leaders after a two-year review.

On this week’s Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the Boy Scout story. The podcast was recorded before news of the leak broke, so we do not cover that angle. We focus on my concerns about the sensationalistic nature of a CNN report attempting to tie Mormons to the Boy Scouts’ vote delay.

We also explore the media’s treatment of grassroots sources on this story. While most of the coverage has involved predictable reactions from organized talking heads — pro and con — I note that The Associated Press took a different approach in one story, giving a family on each side of the debate an opportunity to share its perspective. That story was published before the vote was postponed:

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SPLC to get Sarah Palin treatment any day now

I want to talk about media coverage of the man who was convicted today of shooting up the Family Research Council. But let’s first go back to the horrible story about the murderous rampage that one disturbed individual went on in Arizona.

The mainstream media narrative, initially, was that a right wing Tea Party supporter acting under the orders of Sarah Palin had assassinated a sitting member of Congress. Precisely none of that was true or even close to true, but it didn’t keep the media from pushing a particular narrative about it for some time. (It wasn’t the biggest religion story, per se, but see our posts here, here and here) I also wrote a post about the role that alternate realities played in the shooting and media coverage of same. The shooter was said to engage in alternate realities. But, I argued, the same might be said of the media, feverishly trying to create a world where political opponents could be blamed for the most brutal crimes imaginable even if the facts didn’t support that.

For days the media focused on the need for civility, and how this shooting was the result of conservative political rhetoric. Some media outlets suggested that campaign and battle words be avoided when talking about politics. See, a PAC associated with Sarah Palin had put out a map with races to “target” and had identified those “targets” with crosshairs. The Atlantic Wire highlighted some of The Atlantic‘s writers on the matter in a piece headlined “Did Sarah Palin’s Target Map Play Role in Giffords Shooting?

In the wake of his shocking and senseless attack, a number of commentators are asking, as The Atlantic’s James Fallows put it, “whether there is a connection between” such “extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery” as that published by Palin and “actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be.” In other words, did Palin’s map cross the line famously described by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as “falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic?”

The Washington Post wrote a story headlined “Palin caught in crosshairs map controversy after Tucson shootings.” The story acknowledges that it’s written as the “result of a national tragedy in which there is no known connection between anything Palin said or did and the alleged actions of Jared Loughner, who is accused of fatally shooting six and severely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 13 others.”

More from The Atlantic (which also included folks who didn’t blame Palin):

Palin at Fault

  • What Palin Did Wrong  The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan clarifies, “No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder. Many are merely saying that her recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged. We are saying it’s about time someone took responsibility for this kind of rhetorical extremism, because it can and has led to violence and murder.” He points out that Giffords herself had expressed concern about Palin’s map.
  • ‘Imagery of Armed Revolution’  The New York Times’ Matt Bai writes, “it’s hard not to think [Loughner] was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon.” Bai explains, “The problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.” He says Palin and other used “imagery of armed revolution. Popular spokespeople like Ms. Palin routinely drop words like ‘tyranny’ and ‘socialism’ when describing the president and his allies, as if blind to the idea that Americans legitimately faced with either enemy would almost certainly take up arms. “
  • The Psychology of Incited Violence  At Psychology Today, neurologist David Weisman writes, “The question is not ‘did Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric cause this shooting?’ The question is ‘does inciting violence factor in a multi-factorial process?'” Weisman explores the decision-making process and role of unconscious biases, concluding, “Although there is little clear evidence in this case, the data highlights the importance of butterfly events on human actions. Jared Loughner is clearly deranged. He drank deeply from internal insanity and external stimuli.  His actions did not take place in a vacuum.”

So yesterday, Floyd Lee Corkins II pleaded guilty to three criminal counts involving his August 2012 attack on the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Family Research Council. He told the FBI that he picked his target from a “hate map (!) on the web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center. That’s the liberal group that is frequently used as a legitimate source in news reports (I sort of thought they jumped the shark when they identified “pick-up artists” as hate groups but this Reason archive might be worth a read for developing a tad of skepticism of their treatment by the media).

OK, so we have a real criminal who cites a real “hate map” as a key factor in his violence. How do you suppose the media treated that story?

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Symbolic defeat for a Christian business in Maryland

http://youtu.be/WX5egojO128

After spending more than a week on the road, I returned home — as always — to find a large stack of ink-stained dead tree pulp that needed to be sorted a read. I refer, of course, to all the back issues of the newspaper that lands in my front yard.

As you would expect, The Baltimore Sun folks are in full-tilt party mode with the advent of same-sex marriage in this very blue, very liberal Catholic state. Each and every one of these one-sided stories was precisely what one would expect, in this age of social-issues advocacy journalism in the mainstream press.

There was, however, one interesting page-one piece that sounded a slightly somber note. More on that in a minute.

Throughout the election season, leaders of the gay-rights movement argued, and thus The Sun religiously emphasized, that the legislation legalizing same-sex marriage would not require clergy and religious organizations to perform these rites. Of course, no one ever suggested that this was the issue in the first place. Opponents of the bill tried to debate its impact on the work of religious non-profit groups, such as schools and social-welfare ministries, as well as ordinary religious believers, of a traditional-doctrine bent, whose careers are linked to the marriage industry.

It was almost impossible to find local coverage that took any of those issues seriously — DUH! — what really mattered was that clergy and their religious flocks would not be forced to perform these rites. Nothing to see here in conscience-clause land, so move along.

This division between religious liberty in sanctuaries and religious liberty in public life is, meanwhile, the key to our nation’s debates about the Health and Human Services mandate, the rights of military clergy, etc., etc. The high court has not addressed any of the big issues linked to this, but could soon — including the undecided question of whether homosexuality is a condition that leads to special-protection status under civil rights laws.

Anyway, about that sobering A1 story about a highly symbolic local business, which is led by a traditional Christian:

An Annapolis company whose old-fashioned trolleys are iconic in the city’s wedding scene has abandoned the nuptial industry rather than serve same-sex couples.

The owner of Discover Annapolis Tours said he decided to walk away from $50,000 in annual revenue instead of compromising his Christian convictions when same-sex marriages become legal in Maryland in less than a week. And he has urged prospective clients to lobby state lawmakers for a religious exemption for wedding vendors. While most wedding businesses across the country embraced the chance to serve same-sex couples, a small minority has struggled to balance religious beliefs against business interests.

Wedding vendors elsewhere who refused to accommodate same-sex couples have faced discrimination lawsuits — and lost. Legal experts said Discover Annapolis Tours sidesteps legal trouble by avoiding all weddings.

“If they’re providing services to the public, they can’t discriminate who they provide their services to,” said Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. The commission enforces public accommodation laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

And where, precisely, were those public-accommodation laws passed? Is that local, state or national law? This is crucial information that readers need to understand the legal debate that is raging around that issue. Plenty of cities, and some states, have added sexual orientation to these laws, but others have not.

Late in the story, The Sun team did offer some information about that crucial side of the issue, after talking to Frank Schubert, an opponent of laws that redefine marriage. A direct explanation of the state law shows up at the very end of this long report.

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