When hating on Chick-fil-A, try to hide it better (UPDATED)

The Facebook page of Mark Krzos is like many others. He’s married to a beautiful woman. He really likes the band Ween. He posted an awesome Wilco performance from Jimmy Fallon the other night. He lets friends know that he’s incredulous that one congressman views an HHS mandate as a serious problem. He hopes that Gore Vidal rests in peace. There’s some hockey stuff. He really doesn’t like Mitt Romney. Like, really doesn’t like him. He is a huge fan of President Barack Obama. He’s got a post with the note “We are a PROUD city” showing the letter Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent Chick-fil-A telling them that their CEO’s religious views meant that there was “no place” in Boston for Chick-fil-A. There’s some other anti-Chick-fil-A stuff. Some mockery of creationists. The usual.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because of another part of his Facebook page that an alarmed reader sent me. Turns out he’s a journalist. A staff writer for the News-Press, a Gannett newspaper in Fort Myers, Florida.

Now before I get to the note, let me share something personal. Like many other Americans, I ate at Chick-fil-A yesterday. We went early for dinner. The location — Crystal City, Virginia — was crowded. We sat down next to a striking woman who came in to eat on the way to a class she’s teaching. But then she told me she was there because she believes in freedom of speech. Her sister in Baltimore had called her and told her that lines had been out the door there and that many people were coming into the store to support the company against the boycott and threats facing the company.

Soon the line was going out the door. It was almost like a party atmosphere. Lots of families. Lots of mothers. I saw a friend and his son and I joked that the food tasted like freedom and the whole line kind of laughed. It was obvious that people were there for a reason.

As we talked with people (my oldest daughter will talk to anyone and this gets us in lots of conversations), we learned that people were there for a number of reasons. Some hate government attacks on free speech or religion. Some wanted to support traditional values. Some wanted to support a fellow Christian. And, yes, I’m sure some just wanted a perfectly fried chicken sandwich. Maybe all of the above. I heard a lot — a lot — about frustration with the media. But I sat there and thought, “If only a reporter would come and sit down and talk to these people, they might get a better understanding of how people outside their newsrooms think.”

I wondered how the media would cover the story. Would they really “get” what happened across the country in this massive, somewhat odd, chicken sandwich protest? Would they understand what this diverse group of people were trying to say? Or would they just paint it as, sigh, another example of bigoted people who should be shunned? Who don’t deserve fair media treatment? Who should be painted in the worst possible light? Would they fail to even mention the day in a story, as a friend tells me the Washington Post did? He said the only thing he could find in the paper was a photo on page A11 (there’s this video on the web site today).

So with all that said, let me share with you staff writer Mark Krzos’ note:

RE: Chik-fil-A controversy
I have never felt so alien in my own country as I did today while covering the restaurant’s supporters. The level of hatred, unfounded fear and misinformed people was astoundingly sad. I can’t even print some of the things people said.

The first comment comes from another journalist named Joseph Anthony. He lists his job as “Anchor/Reporter at WBBH NBC2/ WZVN ABC7.” His comment is “agreed.” A lively comment thread ensues. Krzos claims that the people he met were talking mean about “immigrants.” When someone says something about bigots, he responds “It was like broken records of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and a recitation of half-truths and outright lies.” There’s some negativity about Fox and then Krzos says:

Such a brave stand … eating a goddamn sandwich.

Various people “like” these comments, including some more reporters. His friends beg him to print the goods and he says he couldn’t because it was just too vile and, well, the people wouldn’t give him their names. People suggest he just refer to the rampant “racist and homophobic slurs” and another friend writes “I’ll be on the side with scientists, hippies, NORMAL white people, fellow black folk, mexicans (and street gangs), gays , and technology vs. Jim Bob and Bobby Sue and all the toothless rednecks that REALLY hate America.” Mark Krzos “likes” that comment.

When someone with a Jerry Garcia profile photo suggests he should have thrown waffle fries at the customers — or challenged them to a game of “gay chicken” — he responds “John… too bad there wasn’t another reporter around to go with me and film it. I really wanted to do the interviews on camera while eating out of a bucket of KFC.”

I’m leaving out a ton of stuff on the thread. The slurs against “Bible-based haters.” The discussion of how to physically attack Chick-fil-As. The messages were shared by reporters, including someone from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel who says it was “something to consider” and a FoxNews.com reporter who says in response to someone that “we know that’s not the case” that the customers are standing up for free speech,

So obviously the first thing I wanted to do was find out how Krzos’ story turned out. I mean, I have worked with some seriously political journalists who can just turn off their political views and just do a great job reporting when called upon. But I was curious. Would this level of bigotry against Christians, this level of interpretation about the average Chick-fil-A customer be able to managed?

I mean, to be clear, while Krzos’ account is dramatically different from literally everything I’ve heard from friends and family members across the country, maybe he did happen to come across a place that was magically different. Maybe he did. Maybe his previous strenuous bias against the company had nothing to do with what he reported on. I don’t know. But I am curious how his story turned out. Unfortunately I can’t find it.

The weird thing is that the News-Press has a story on the local deluge of customers. It’s just not written by Krzos. And it’s good — seems to capture the mood I and my friends and families experienced while also giving background on the story and a voice to those who oppose Chick-fil-A. But it’s written by someone else. The lede is “They came for free speech, they came for traditional values and they came for waffle fries.”

Do let us know if you see any good or bad coverage. I thought this Los Angeles Times story was fine but had a stupid headline and overplayed some incidents from spectators and protesters. The LA Times also, of course, ran a bigoted, error-prone and hate-filled screed (from what I hear is its business writer) against Christians the day before the day Chick-fil-A had record sales under the headline “Chick-fil-A gets a lesson on corporate outspokenness.” That’s not just a problem of bad timing. The Huntsville Times had a pretty good angle for its coverage.

UPDATE: There are many interesting comments in the thread below, but I wanted to highlight this one from Patrick Heavey:

I emailed the higher-ups at the News-Press about Mr. Krozs’s posts, and got an almost immediate response:

“This was not authorized and was done without knowledge of The News-Press. It has been taken down and we are dealing with the reporter for his personal note. We regret this happened. This is not what we stand for and we will not tolerate it. Our front page coverage this morning was balanced and reflected on what was happening.

Terry Eberle
Executive Editor/Vice President of Content”

The paper did the right thing, and should be commended for it.

Photo of a hater via Shutterstock.

And now, equal time for Muslim chickens …

Here’s the gist of a recent Los Angeles Times story: An Islamic butcher shop finds surprising success in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of east L.A.

Anybody see the potential for any, shall we say, religion angles in such a story?

(That’s what we at GetReligion call ghost foreshadowing.)

Let’s start at the top:

To the little girl, going to work with her father felt like visiting a petting zoo, with chickens, ducks, doves and rabbits in cages in the back of the shop. Even as she fed the animals, she knew about the other part of Al Salam Polleria. The part with things like the boiler, the de-featherer and the cutting station.

“But I guess, yeah, if you think of it as a butcher shop then that might be weird,” said Iman Elrabat-Gabr, now 37. “But the memories I have of it are not a butcher shop, more of a farm.”

Al Salam Polleria’s success, as well as its distinction, can be found in its East L.A. location and in its name — al salaam is Arabic for peace, polleria is Spanish for poultry shop.

It was never their intention to end up in East L.A. But as they would find, it was quite fortunate.

Elrabat-Gabr’s father, Safwat Elrabat, emigrated from Egypt, figuring he could fill a niche in Los Angeles by selling fresh poultry killed according to Islamic law, called halal.

How he arrived on this stretch of Whittier Boulevard, a heavily Latino neighborhood, came down to zoning laws that allow the storage and slaughter of live animals. Still, when Elrabat and his brother-in-law opened the shop in 1984, they expected a line of fellow Muslims trailing out the door.

“Yeah, it didn’t happen that way,” Elrabat-Gabr said.

Keep reading, and the Times describes how the Latinos came to love the Muslim chickens (hey, haven’t we had enough talk about Christian chickens for one week?). The story notes:

Elrabat-Gabr sees strong similarities between the Egyptian and Latin cultures. Both place great importance on family and on respect, she said, and because the Moors controlled parts of Spain for hundreds of years, the languages share similar words.

The Times (which apparently got this story idea from a smaller L.A.-area publication) reports that Islamic prayers hang behind the register and explains how the shop goes about killing the chickens:

Al Salam Polleria only kills chickens according to halal a few times each week — on an order-by-order basis: a Muslim person cuts the throat with a sharp knife, out of sight of the other animals, facing Mecca while saying in Arabic, “In the name of God, the greatest,” Elrabat-Gabr said.

But the Latino customers don’t ask for halal meat so nearly all of the 100 or so birds the shops sells each day are killed in the same expert fashion, minus the prayer. Once the dead birds are plucked, Josefina Martinez, 43, takes over. She has worked here for almost 20 years. For her last two pregnancies, Martinez said, she worked until the day she went into labor.

But mainly, the Times story fails to get religion. The story fails to delve into the shop owners’ faith and beliefs. Even more strikingly, it fails to delve into the Latino customers’ religion. Am I missing something, or isn’t that the whole crux of why it’s surprising that the shop would enjoy success with that demographic?

It would be fascinating to know if the Latino customers are Catholics or evangelicals or religious at all. It would be fascinating to know whether buying poultry at this Islamic shop has changed their perception of, or appreciation for, their Muslim neighbors and, if so, how.

I, for one, would love to know if the shop owners and Latino customers ever talk about religion and, if so, what they say. Do they respect each other’s beliefs? Do they share any common ground? Or is the relationship all about fresh poultry?

Chickens image via Shutterstock

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.

The media’s irrational fear of Chick-fil-A

I was reading this Bloomberg analysis by Josh Barro of the most recent movement against Chick-fil-A, which I’ll share before I get to what I really want to talk about:

In Chicago, each local alderman has de facto control over neighborhood zoning. And Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno has announced that Chick-fil-A is not welcome to build a planned restaurant in his Logan Square ward because of Chief Executive Officer Dan Cathy’s comments in opposition to gay marriage.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

“If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward,” Moreno told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Moreno stated his position in strong terms, referring to Cathy’s “bigoted, homophobic comments” in a proposed opinion page piece that an aide also sent to Tribune reporters. “Because of this man’s ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward.”

This isn’t just bad policy; it’s unconstitutional. Local governments generally have broad discretion over zoning, but they cannot use it to violate the constitutional rights of landowners. You can block a project because you think it’s too big but not because the developer is black, wants to build a Mosque or opposes gay marriage.

This issue last popped up in the debate over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, whose opponents floated various wrongheaded, and unconstitutional, strategies to block its developers from building.

Ah yes. The so-called Ground Zero Mosque. The media obsession of August 2010. You might remember how the mainstream media covered that debate. Anyone who expressed even the slightest discomfort about a mosque being built near Ground Zero (much less raising funds because of this fact) was branded Islamophobic. That was the term used whether or not those citizens expressing discomfort wanted to do what Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno have said they’ll do: use the power of the government to block the group they oppose. In fact, most of them didn’t. They just said they didn’t like it. Now my own view is that in a free country people should have the right to build whatever they want on their own property, but I wrote several posts (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) about the shoddy media coverage of people who did not agree with my views.

Time, for instance, wrote a cover story headlined “Is America Islamophobic?” The actual text of the story acknowledged no evidence to substantiate the charge, but had paragraphs like this:

Although the American strain of Islamophobia lacks some of the traditional elements of religious persecution — there’s no sign that violence against Muslims is on the rise, for instance — there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that hate speech against Muslims and Islam is growing both more widespread and more heated.

So of course I was curious how Time would cover actual government crackdowns on Christians for their speech. Boston and Chicago are big cities. The mayor of Chicago, one Rahm Emmanuel, actually backed his alderman up after he said he’d use the power of the state to block a private company for the religious views of its CEO. By contrast, you might recall Mayor Bloomberg actually moved to ease the mosque’s bureaucratic burdens back in 2010. And you have celebrities saying stuff like:

anyone who eats [expletive] Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating tortured chickens 4Christ

Her follow-up tweet is even better. You know, just “anecdotal evidence of hate speech” against Christians. So is Time‘s approach going to blare the headline “Is America Christianophobic? What the anti-chicken sandwich uproar tells us about how the U.S. regards Christians”? Is it? I just know that they are going to refer to phobias, right?

We all know that phobias are irrational fears. And if feeling uncomfortable about the construction of a large mosque near the site of a massive terrorist attack committed in the name of Islam is an irrational fear, surely using the power of the government to keep perfectly-fried chicken sandwiches away from the good people of Chicago and Boston is an irrational fear, right? So let’s check out the -phobia headline used by Time magazine in its story about this recent manufactured media outrage. Christianophobia is clunky but it’s the best parallel. Is that the phobia that will be invoked in the headline? Let’s check it out:

Boston Mayor Blocks Chick-fil-A Franchise from City over Homophobic Attitude

Wait, what?

The attitude that Time wants to call out is not the mayor’s but the one that’s on the receiving end of government’s big stick here? And we’re going to call the belief that marriage should be defined as the union of one man and one woman … “homophobic”? Really? Or as one political reporter I follow on Twitter put it:

Did Time magazine ever call Clinton or Obama “homophobic” when they were against gay marriage?

I don’t think we need to do a Nexis search to answer that one. These same views are called “anti-gay,” a phrase I also don’t remember being used against President Obama to describe his support of defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The article is just embarrassing in its obvious support for Menino.

It includes some more basic information about how Chick-fil-A has more than 1600 restaurants in 29 states and brings in $4.1 billion a year. And we learn that while Menino blatantly discriminates against people who hold views that differ from his, Chick-fil-A doesn’t. I suppose that’s helpful information.

But nowhere do we learn anything about people having any fear of homosexuals, much less an irrational fear of them. If you are a reporter, I think that you should learn what phobia means. And then when you learn what it means, you should use it only when referring to, well, phobias. Phobia is not a civil way to discuss views you disagree with. Leave the childish taunts to the children. And when you become a big boy or girl with a real job, start writing and speaking like an adult.

And when government officials in positions of authority are talking about infringing upon another group’s freedom because of someone’s religious views, go ahead and call up a First Amendment expert. This Time piece, you won’t be surprised, didn’t even mention First Amendment concerns. The Chicago Tribune barely mentioned them before scooting right on to something else. This New York Times piece was fine, but it didn’t mention the issue either.

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.

Where’s the beef? What the Chick-fil-A boss really said

So, did you hear about that wild quote that the president of Chick-fil-A didn’t say the other day?

Here’s a piece of a CNN report that is typical of the mainstream press coverage of this latest cyber-skirmish in America’s battles over homosexuality, commerce and free speech (sort of).

(CNN) – The fact that Chick-fil-A is a company that espouses Christian values is no secret. The fact that its 1,600 fast-food chicken restaurants across the country are closed on Sundays has long been testament to that. But the comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage to Baptist Press on Monday have ignited a social media wildfire.

“Guilty as charged,”, Cathy said when asked about his company’s support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” Cathy is quoted as saying.

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.

In this case, one cannot assume that.

While the story contains tons of material defending traditional Christian teachings on sexuality, the controversial entrepreneur never talks about gay rights or gay marriage. Why? Because he wasn’t asked about those issues in the interview.

This raises an interesting journalistic question: Is a defense of one doctrine automatically the same thing as an on-the-record attack on the opposite doctrine? In this case, is it accurate for CNN (and others) to say that Cathy made comments about gay marriage when, in fact, he did not speak words addressing that issue?

But wait, readers might say, everyone KNOWS what he was talking about! And, once his actual comments were quoted, kind of, in the mainstream press, it was then possible to quote many people who offered their angry reactions to his actual words because of their interpretation of them.

This is certainly true. It would have been easy to have quoted several of the tsunami of tweets, blog comments and other commentaries blasting Cathy for his defense of basic Christian doctrines. You know, those quotes that sound like this, drawing from the actual interview:

“We don’t claim to be a Christian business,” Cathy told the Biblical Recorder in a recent visit to North Carolina. He attended a business leadership conference many years ago where he heard Christian businessman Fred Roach say, “There is no such thing as a Christian business.”

“That got my attention,” Cathy said. Roach went on to say, “Christ never died for a corporation. He died for you and me.”

“In that spirit … [Christianity] is about a personal relationship. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are,” Cathy added. “But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us.”

And the marriage thing?

The company invests in Christian growth and ministry through its WinShape Foundation (WinShape.com). The name comes from the idea of shaping people to be winners. It began as a college scholarship and expanded to a foster care program, an international ministry, and a conference and retreat center modeled after the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove.

“That morphed into a marriage program in conjunction with national marriage ministries,” Cathy added.

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.”

So there is the context. It certainly would be easy for journalists to talk to the company’s critics and, thus, to establish a gay-rights context for this discussion, if that is the goal. But that isn’t my point, of course. That isn’t what CNN, and others, did in their reports. They reported that Cathy made comments, that he spoke words directly addressing gay-rights issues, that he delivered a series of negative, anti-gay remarks. In effect, Cathy is being quoted saying words that he said, as well as words that he did not say.

Thus, the author of the original Biblical Recorder story, K. Allan Blume, has since noted:

During a call-in radio interview Thursday (July 19) with WORD-FM in Pittsburgh, K. Allan Blume described his conversation with Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy as “very positive,” unlike how it is being portrayed in a variety of news reports. …

Many of those reports “turned [the original story] into a negative,” said Blume, adding the term “anti-gay” never came up in the June interview while Cathy was speaking in the Raleigh, N.C., area.

“He was not saying ‘guilty as charged anti-gay,’” Blume added. “[Cathy] never even brought up that subject. Everything he stated was on the positive side … He never stated anything negative.”

Picky, picky? Well, yes. It would have been so easy for the mainstream press to have reported Cathy’s remarks accurately and, then, to have accurately reported the comments of those who were more than happy to criticize the Chick-fil-A leader’s conservative views on marriage.

That equation is par for the journalistic course. But is it fair game to actually state, as fact, that the man said things that he didn’t say?

Finn and the Facebook foes

In my post the other day on the indictment of a Roman Catholic bishop in Missouri, I acknowledged that I am not an expert on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals.

That admission on my part prompted a scolding comment (punctuated with a healthy serving of sarcasm) from a GetReligion reader:

That’s for dang sure. Indeed, your critique demonstrates that you’re not even really up to speed on the situation in KC. Have you checked out the long-running Facebook page, where his constituents are demanding his resignation over the issue?

But do carry on; it’s rather entertaining to (sic) what pundits pontificate from the perspective of ignorance. Hey, write first, investigate later. That’s…. “journalism?”

I replied that I had not checked out the Facebook page. That’s not my job. My role is to critique mainstream media coverage of religion, not to do the reporting myself. Certainly, I could “dang sure” do a better job of that sometimes.

But now, thanks to an Associated Press follow-up story on the case of Bishop Robert Finn, I have checked out the Facebook page — assuming it’s the one to which the reader referred. That’s because the AP story referenced the page up high. The top of the report:

Calls for Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Finn to resign started even before last week, when he became the highest-ranking church leader in the sex abuse scandal criminally charged with sheltering an accused priest.

The bishop of Kansas City, Mo., had acknowledged in May that he waited five months to tell police about the hundreds of images of alleged child pornography found on the Rev. Shawn Ratigan’s computer. Ratigan had taken some of the photos of girls months ago at an Easter party he hosted, investigators said. More than 700 people have joined a Facebook page called “Bishop Finn Must Go.”

As I type this, 784 Facebook users have clicked “like” on the “Bishop Finn Must Go” page.

At this rate, that page someday may eclipse the 836 Facebook users who “know someone with smelly feet.”

It may take a while before either page catches up with the 5,498,400 Facebook users who like Ozzy Osbourne or the 4,657,773 Facebook users — including myself — who like Chick-fil-A. 

But back to journalism: At what point should a major news organization — say the AP, whose news reaches half the world’s population on any given day — give serious credence to a Facebook petition? Should we expect breaking news soon on an epidemic of Americans who know people with smelly feet?

In the case of the story referenced, the AP story gives no other details on the Facebook page. For example, if it’s a serious opposition force against the bishop (whose public-figure Facebook page is liked by 1,219 users as of this moment), shouldn’t the page administrator be quoted? Shouldn’t some evidence be given that the people liking the page are actually parishioners of Finn’s diocese?

At the very least, shouldn’t at least one individual be quoted — by name and not vague reference to Facebook — who wants the bishop gone?

By the way, feel free to “like” the GetReligion Facebook page if you get a chance. We’re only a few fans (or a few zillion) away from reaching Ozzy status. And unlike Chick-fil-A, we’re open on Sundays.

‘Eat mor chikin’ or not?

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See if you can guess the source of this news article:

ATLANTA — The Chick-fil-A sandwich — a hand-breaded chicken breast and a couple of pickles squished into a steamy, white buttered bun — is a staple of some Southern diets and a must-have for people who collect regional food experiences the way some people collect baseball cards.

New Yorkers have sprinted through the airport here to grab one between flights. College students returning home stop for one even before they say hello to their parents.

But never on Sunday, when the chain is closed.

Nicknamed “Jesus chicken” by jaded secular fans and embraced by Evangelical Christians, Chick-fil-A is among only a handful of large American companies with conservative religion built into its corporate ethos. But recently its ethos has run smack into the gay rights movement.

OK, here are your choices: Did this article run in The Onion — America’s Finest News Source — or The New York Times?

The correct answer would be the Times. Read the full story.

Now, I must acknowledge my bias right here at the top: I am a big fan of Chick-fil-A — the fried chicken, that is. My family eats chicken biscuits there most every Saturday morning. Once every week or two, I go through the drive-through at lunchtime and usually order a 12-pack nugget meal. My local Chick-Fil-A has so much traffic at noontime that a handful of employees direct traffic outside the store and the call in advance orders to keep the lines of cars moving.

However, I must confess something else, too: I’ve never heard anyone refer to Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches as “Jesus chicken.” I am well aware that Chick-fil-A closes on Sundays and respect that decision, even though I frequent many other restaurants that choose to serve the after-church crowd. On a recent morning visit to Chick-fil-A, I noticed a manager reading his Bible during his break. This did not offend me. Then again, I am a Bible-believing Christian.

Back to the Times’ article: The news peg is that a Chick-fil-A in Pennsylvania — one of the chain’s 1,500-plus locations in 39 states — agreed to provide free sandwiches to a group that promotes traditional families and opposes same-sex marriages. This lit up gay blogs and prompted some university students across the nation to try to get the chain removed from their campuses, the newspaper reports.

The coverage prompted Chick-fil-A’s president and COO to issue a lengthy statement, including this:

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.

The Times’ 1,300-word report itself seems to give a fair hearing to Chick-fil-A and provides a variety of customer (and non-customer) voices: a lesbian who wonders if loving Chick-fil-A makes you “a bad gay,” a devout Christian dental hygienist who is outspoken in her support of Chick-fil-A, a non-religious Chick-fil-A customer who thinks the outcry seems like overkill and a “Big Gay Ice Cream Truck” operator who wants people to make informed decisions about their food.

But in reading the story, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this piece belonged in The Onion, not the Times.

I mean, Chick-fil-A’s Christian ethos isn’t exactly breaking news. Watchdogs inclined to accuse the mainstream media of liberal bias wasted little time in doing so in this case (see here and here). The Weekly Standard weighed in with a piece titled “The Left’s Latest Target: Chick-fil-A?” In Chick-fil-A’s hometown, the Times story prompted this follow-up by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, raised questions about the effort to kick Chick-fil-A off campuses. His questions might apply, as well, to the issue of whether this brouhaha rises to the level of national news:

So far as I can tell, no one has accused Chick-fil-A of discriminating against gays and lesbians in its employment practices or its customer service. The incident that sparked the boycott campaign was a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A restaurant’s provision of sandwiches and brownies to a marriage seminar put on by the Pennsylvania Family Institute — a group that opposes gay marriage and has been characterized by activists as anti-gay. The seminar in Harrisburg is “The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God’s Design.” Presumably Chick-fil-A contributes to other groups that hold similar views. Does that really provide a sound reason to those who favor gay marriage to drive Chick-fil-A off campus?

I think not. The campaign is unwise because it seeks to punish and stigmatize those with whom the protesters disagree. The ideal of the campus as a place where people debate their differences by means of rational arguments and well-vetted evidence has been on a downward trajectory for decades. Kicking Chick-fil-A off campus is a reductio ad absurdum of the now-common tactic of roaring at your supposed opponents. The company, after all, isn’t busy on campus promoting an anti-gay marriage agenda. It’s just selling chicken sandwiches.

That’s just one perspective, of course. This is how the expert quoted by the Times described the situation (cue the dramatic music, please):

With its near-national reach and its transparent conservative Christian underpinnings, Chick-fil-A is a trailblazer of sorts, said Lake Lambert, the author of “Spirituality, Inc.” and dean of the college of liberal arts at Mercer University, where he teaches Christianity.

“They’re going in a direction we haven’t seen in faith-based businesses before, and that is to a much broader marketing of themselves and their products,” he said. “This is possibly the next phase of evangelical Christianity’s muscle flexing.”

(The Times uppercased “Evangelical” in the first reference and lowercased it in the second. Not sure which is proper Times style, although I think lowercasing it is the right approach.)

Now, GetReligion readers, it’s your turn to play Times editor: Is this national news worthy of 1,300 words in the A section on Sunday? Or do you leave the coverage of this story to The Onion? Remember, we are concerned about journalistic issues and will spike comments from advocates.


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