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Media Malpractice: Press And Pundits Get Chick-Fil-A Vs. Gay Story Wrong

by David Badash on August 1, 2012

in News

Post image for Media Malpractice: Press And Pundits Get Chick-Fil-A Vs. Gay Story Wrong

Chick-Fil-A has never discriminated. Its CEO, Dan Cathy, in a Baptist Press interview, merely declared his support for the biblical definition of marriage. And the Cathy family have been wrongly and viciously maligned in the press.

None of these statements are accurate, despite that pundits, the press, the religious right, and so many Republicans, have been repeating them for weeks. The real truth is Chick-Fil-A for years has been donating money to groups actively engaged in attacking gay people, advancing the dangerous practice of “ex-gay” reparative therapy, working to prevent same-sex marriage equality, and even supporting a certified anti-gay hate group.

WHAT THE MEDIA GOT WRONG

The media repeatedly quote Dan Cathy’s recent statement from “an interview with the Baptist Press.” From NBC to the New York Daily News to Michelle Malkin to Ross Douthat, the source of the interview has been wrongly reported literally tens of thousands of times. Not a big deal, merely an indication of how the media has refused to do its job by fact-checking the simplest issues, like who conducted an interview or where it first appeared.

“Now we have the great Chick-fil-A imbroglio, in which mayors and an alderman in several American cities threatened to prevent the delicious chicken chain from opening new outlets because its Christian president told an interviewer that he supports “the biblical definition of the family unit,” New York Times conservative opinion writer Ross Douthat claimed in Sunday’s paper.

That’s not the half of it, yet the punditry and the press have been happy to repeat and report the tip of the iceberg rather than dig deeper.

The mainstream media have gotten the real Chick-Fil-A vs. gay rights story horribly wrong. The habitual stenography practiced by many journalists has become the default, over actual fact-checking, on a story that — were it researched, framed and communicated properly — would be certain to place the $4.5 billion Christian chicken retailer under a far different light.

So, let’s start with some actual facts.

With over 1600 outlets nationwide, Chick-Fil-A has been sued for discrimination more than a dozen times. Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A’s president and chief operating officer (contrary to media reports promoting him to CEO) has, on multiple occasions, attacked same-sex marriage. Cathy’s widely-quoted interview was not with the Baptist Press. And I’ve yet been able to find evidence of Dan Cathy and his family being maligned by the press.

The Cult of Chick-fil-A,” a 2007 Forbes profile of Chick-Fil-A’s actual CEO, S. Truett Cathy — Dan Cathy’s father — notes the restaurant giant “has been sued at least 12 times since 1988 on charges of employment discrimination” — a fact the media has totally ignored.

CNN’s Carol Costello last week claimed “there is no evidence Chick-Fil-A discriminates against gay employees or gay clientele,” in an ugly attack on Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney, and defended Dan Cathy by asking, “why try to destroy his business?”

The Forbes profile notes CEO Truett Cathy would “probably fire an employee or terminate an operator who ‘has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members’,” and says Cathy “wants married workers, believing they are more industrious and productive.” Forbes also states Chick-Fil-A’s interviewing process can take up to a year, and include friends and neighbors — so the chances Chick-Fil-A actually hiring or franchising someone gay are minuscule.

There are laws in some states and towns against employment discrimination. Yet local politicians from Boston to San Francisco to Chicago to New York have been wrongly annihilated — on First Amendment grounds, no less —  for saying Chick-Fil-A is not welcome in their cities.

“Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated last week. “They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”

Former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and bestselling Glenn Greenwald characterized Emanuel’s comments as “dangerous.”

Just like with marriage itself, the state licenses and regulates institutions it has a vested interest in supporting. And the state — local, county, state, and the federal government — has a vested interest in protecting society from discrimination. Which is why local governments should exercise their power to withhold licenses from any business that not only engages in discrimination — but promotes it.

Isn’t licensing a business that says it will fire an employee for sinning “dangerous”? Isn’t licensing a business that donates millions of dollars annually to groups that exist to malign, misrepresent, and demonize an entire segment of the population, while actively working to take away their civil rights “dangerous”? Apparently, Greenwald’s liberal sensibilities need reexamination.

Chick-Fil-A’s attacks on gay people stop being a “free speech” issue when those attacks migrate from words to actions.

WHITEWASHING DAN CATHY’S ACTUAL COMMENTS

So what did Dan Cathy say in this now infamous interview? Some excerpts:

“an organization we can operate on biblical principles… [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.”

When asked if Chick-fil-A’s success is attributed to biblical values, Cathy quickly said, “I think they’re inseparable. God wants to give us wisdom to make good decisions and choices.”

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about this opposition.

“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.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families – some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

“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.”

This is described by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins merely as a “simple affirmation of biblical truth [which] has sent homosexual activists into a frenzy,” as Jeremy Hooper at Good As You reports. Clearly, Perkins is a pro at anti-gay white-washing, but those comments are merely the tip of the spear.

And according to Scripps Howard News Service’s Terry Mattingly, who is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Dan Cathy didn’t even discuss same-sex marriage. “CNN, and others … 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,” according to Mattingly.

Dave Weigel writing at Slate, sets the record straight, asking, “why was the Baptist Recorder talking to Chick-fil-A, anyway?

“It was because the company has been criticized for its founders’ opposition to gay marriage. That’s been known for years, as has the WinShape Foundation’s support for NOM and other “traditional marriage” activist groups. In other contexts, Dan Cathy has fretted about legal gay marriage “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” “Traditional family,” in this context, was a way for the Baptist Recorder to avoid the word gay in an article about a company that uses some of its profits on campaigns against gay marriage. Maybe the meme-ing was lazy, but the story was fair — an example of the media using context to figure out code words and report out a pretty slippery statement.”

WHAT THE MEDIA IGNORED

Most of the media insisted on reporting Dan Cathy’s comments in a vacuum, devoid of history or context, as if he and Chick-Fil-A had never entered the marriage arena before the July interview.

Let’s look at comments — made at different events just as recently as June of this year – Chick-Fil-A’s Dan Cathy made about gay people, same-sex marriage, and homosexuality.

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

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

And yet most of the media, pundits, religious leaders, and politicians all ignored these comments.

Angered with the 66-year old chicken retailer, the LGBT community and our allies have long tried to hold Chick-Fil-A accountable for both anti-gay statements the 1600-unit chain’s leaders make, and, worse, for the Christian fast food purveyor’s attacks on same-sex marriage, which amount to a years-long multimillion dollar war.

Contrary to how the press, pundits, the religious right, and Republican politicians present the issue — it isn’t just Dan Cathy’s biblical attacks that are problematic. It’s Chick-Fil-A’s multimillion dollar financial support of an anti-gay hate group and many organizations that are actively working to kill same-sex marriage.

CHICK-FIL-A’S WAR ON GAYS

From 2003 – 2010, Chick-Fil-A, though its wholly-owned Winshape Foundation non-profit, has donated $5 million to these organizations whose primary product often is hate.

Unlike Chick-Fil-A, many of these groups Winshape supports produce no product. Some work to strengthen the family — but with biblical, anti-gay strings attached. Others offer little tangible benefit to society, doing little more than spewing hate. It’s actually their business model, and when they become really, really good at it, they get an award, from the Southern Poverty Law Center — the same folks who turned the KKK from a national movement into an outlier — “certified anti-gay hate group.”

“Long before Chick-fil-A chief executive Dan Cathy’s recent remarks regarding gay marriage, the Cathy family has been open and active supporters of Christian traditional marriage,” the Wall Street Journal recently reported:

Through their WinShape Foundation, created in 1984, the owners of Chick-fil-A have donated millions to various causes, including Christian organizations dedicated to preserving traditional heterosexual marriages.

What “preserving traditional heterosexual marriages,” means is ensuring same-sex marriage never takes hold — to the point of state-decreed automatic divorces for already-married same-sex couples.

From 2003 – 2010, as Equality Matters has researched and reported, Chick-Fil-A’s Winshape Foundation has made donations to at least seven anti-gay groups whose focus is to push back on efforts to legalize equality, eliminate same-sex marriage, and malign the LGBT community through hate speech. (2003 – 2008, 2009, 2010.)

Winshape even donates money to Exodus International, whose goal is to eliminate homosexual behavior and help homosexual men and women enter into heterosexual marriages. Its work in reparative therapy, also known as “ex-gay” therapy, has been labeled as both ineffective and dangerous by practically every major medical organization.

The Fellowship Of Christian Athletes, the second-highest beneficiary of Winshape’s anti-gay hate money, holds an annual conference during which, they claim, “God freed some people from homosexuality, sexual sins, addictions and even ushered newcomers into His Kingdom.”

Tony Perkin’s Family Research Council annually benefits from donations to Winshape by Chick-Fil-A. It “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science.” Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-gay hate group, is certified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which notes:

The intention is to denigrate LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

To make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs a number of “policy experts” whose “research” has allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. It also works at the grassroots level, conducting outreach to pastors in an effort to “transform the culture.”

But the lion’s share of Winshape support to anti-gay groups goes to another Cathy Family entity, the Marriage & Family Foundation, headed by Chick-Fil-A Senior Vice President Donald “Bubba” Cathy. The Cathy’s Marriage & Family Foundation is an arm of Marriage CoMission, whose 2006 research report, titled, “Marriage & Family Wellness: Corporate America’s Business?” explains “why corporate America has a stake in the renaissance of marriage and family in America.”

“What would happen if companies developed effective practices and benefits to grow the relational wellness of their employees; the faith community delivered stronger marriage and family ministries; great media with a winsome, honest message to the culture about marriage and the family saturated our cities; marriage and family service providers collaborated to share their expertise in producing a new generation of amazing resources and services; and city leaders and elders took responsibility for overlapping these efforts within their own community? We believe that a renaissance of marriage and family in America would take place!”

“Business is driven by profit,” the report concludes. “Employees in healthy marriages can increase that profit, while employees in failing relationships decrease that profit. ”

The report also cites NOM, the National Organization For Marriage co-founder Maggie Gallagher‘s 2001 book, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially – which, needless to say, does not advocate for same-sex marriage — and directly notes Chick-Fil-A CEO Truett Cathy’s 2006 comment, “You can’t expect people to do well in their business if they’ve got problems at home.”

You also can’t expect people to do well in their business if they know their boss disagrees with the very essence of their being, and is willing to publicly state they would fire them for being gay.

Bottom line: the LGBT community and our allies are demanding greater scrutiny for Chick-Fil-A and its other entities, like the Winshape Foundation, not just because of a few words CFA president Dan Cathy said, but what those words add up to.

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