Leave Chick-fil-A Aloooooone

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 24 2012 4:32 PM

Leave Chick-fil-A Aloooooone

The Chick-fil-A controversy has been confounding from the outset. Who eats at that chain and doesn't know about its founder Truett Cathy's conservatism? Has nobody walked there on a Sunday and seen the message from Cathy, explaining that the restaurant is closed because the company honors the Sabbath? Did nobody notice how Cathy got an honorary degree from Liberty University the same day that Mitt Romney did?

So I concur in part with Terry Mattingly's head-scratch about the start of the controversy. He points out that K. Allan Blume's original, soft-focus interview with Dan Cathy (Chick-fil-A operatures on a primogeniture management style) never actually got into gay marriage. This is the key section:

The company invests in Christian growth and ministry through their 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 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.

Mattingly points out that the word "gay" never appears. "While the story contains tons of material defending traditional Christian teachings on sexuality," he writes, "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?"

It's a good question. But ... 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.

Meanwhile, a Twitter follower passed on this photo of a disclaimer at a Chick-fil-A franchise.

That's just not true. The Jim Henson Company announced at the start of this that it was bailing on Chick-fil-A because it "celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness." Such is the pattern of these controversies: The restaurant chain, uncomfortable with advancing in the culture war now that everybody's looking.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.