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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‘Loving the sinner’ in Chick-fil-A gay marriage flap

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An outspoken gay-rights activist and a traditional-marriage-advocating fried-chicken magnate walk into a crowded football stadium and … wait, wait … enjoy the game together.

Huh!?

As the ole cliche goes, life sometimes is stranger than fiction.

A first-person Huffington Post piece by Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, has gone viral this week on Facebook and Twitter, at least in the conservative Christian circles in which I hang. The article’s title certainly is catchy:

Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A

Windmeyer provides a behind-the-scenes account of his unlikely friendship with Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, who became the subject of a media storm last year when he said he supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

With apologies to chickens everywhere, Windmeyer’s piece is filled with religious beef. Consider this section, for example:

During our meetings I came to see that the Chick-fil-A brand was being used by both sides of the political debate around gay marriage. The repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides. As a result, we agreed to keep the ongoing nature of our meetings private for the time being. The fire needed no more fuel.

Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.” Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.

And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.

In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me — and that love extends to my husband. My uncle would never want to see any harm come to me or Tommy. His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.

On Facebook, one friend suggested:

I believe that this is what Jesus would have done. This is what Dan was doing — modeling Christ.

Another chimed in:

Maybe Shane was modeling Christ.

In either case, there’s a religion angle here, right? Given how much news the Chick-fil-A controversy made last year, I wondered if the mainstream media would pick up on Windmeyer’s commentary.

The answer: Sort of.

A front-page story Tuesday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chick-fil-A’s hometown newspaper, reported on the fast food giant’s sales growing last year. The headline:

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

YouTube Preview ImageRemember 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 


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