Chick-fil-A: a discriminator or victim?

The New York Times ran this story about accusations by the gay rights community about discrimination at Chick-fil-A.

This is a difficult, dangerous issue not just for Chick-fil-A but many companies and organizations. Social/moral issues like this are powder kegs with strong feelings on both sides. As a result, it is very dangerous for any company or organization to be caught in the crossfire between people who have strong feelings either way.

Dan Cathy’s message on vimeo was right on target in my mind. He addressed two accusations made against the company. One, that it discriminates against gays or is “anti-gay” and second, that the donation of one of their independent operators of free sandwiches to a pro-marriage (non-same sex variety) organization in Pennsylvania demonstrates that Chick-fil-A as an organization supports anti-gay causes. I believe he did a good job of addressing both of these by emphasizing their treatment of all customers and by pointing out that their operators support many community organizations.

The accusations against the company, and therefore the controversy, is clearly unfair and unsubstantiated. I believe the New York Times, as they are wont to do whenever possible, is using this story to provoke rather than inform. This quotation in my mind has no place in a story like this:

“But Douglas Quint, a concert bassoonist who operates The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in New York during the summer, said he believed that people should make informed decisions about their food.

“It literally leaves a bad taste because I know the people who are putting this food in my mouth actively loathe me,” he said. “I’m all for freedom of religion, it’s just that I know where I want my money to go and I don’t want my money to go.” ”

What I object to is repeating the comment “[they] actively hate me.” The reporter and editor know that no evidence was provided to validate this accusation. But the strange thing about news these days is that accusations can be made with impunity with journalists believing their only obligation is to report the accusation accurately. However, the company in its response would most likely be required to support with data any information it offered in rebuttal. This tendency was well document in Jack Fuller’s (former publisher of Chicago Tribune) book “What is Happening to News.” The sad thing is even though the comment is offered by someone without basis for making so serious an accusation, by it appearing in the NYT it takes on validity.

The real issue here is not gay rights because there is no valid accusation presented. The real issue is that Chick-fil-A has a legacy rooted in Christian values–and that is blood in the water to a substantial portion of our society, including many in the media. That is what the company is on trial for here, not its position  on gay rights.

I think Dan Cathy did well in his response to emphasize the way the company values and treats all employees and that they support a wide range of community organizations. He may also want to emphasize more that independent operators decisions do not necessarily reflect the company’s position. But clearly, the word will go out to operators to be careful about contributing to organizations that may provoke the gay rights community. Beyond that I think Chick-fil-A should monitor it closely but not go further in response. If further response is called for I would advise them to call into question the New York Times coverage of this, for validating unsupported wild accusations and even using this story to provoke a controversy. The ground of the controversy should be shifted to where it belongs.

4 thoughts on “Chick-fil-A: a discriminator or victim?”

  1. Good take on this, and (in other post) on Taco Bell. When the dust settles a few weeks (months?) from now, we’ll probably determine success or failure of these responses in measure of their ACCURACY.

    In Taco Bell’s case, if indeed they have 88% beef and the other 12% holds up to scrutiny, then their accurate response was on target. Applause.

    In Chick-fil-A’s case, we also will have to measure whether his video response is accurate and alinged with the true values and mission of the organization. From reading this old Forbes’ article…it seems there’s a grey area: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2007/0723/080.html

    If the response is accurate and Chick-fil-A’s leadership does not promote a social agenda, then the company should emerge from this just fine.

    If it’s not accurate and the company’s leadership does have a guiding hand in some of these social issues, we’ll learn soon enough. Some General Manager somewhere will Tweet or post or video.

    In this case, they may have been better off stating “we welcome all customers, however, our organization’s leadership does promote issue x, y and z because that’s what we believe.” Yes, this would cause fervor. But it’s a better fervor to address than having to fight two fronts: 1) opposition to the beliefs, 2) the “spin” of trying to make it sound like there was no social agenda being promoted.

    Again, time will tell.

    1. You are right about the ultimate measure being the accuracy. What concerns me about your comment however is the issue of Chick-fil-A pursuing a social agenda. This is something loudly proclaimed in PR circles–it is part of social consciousness of companies. But, only if the social agenda they pursue is advocated by what I might call the cultural elites–in other words political correctness. It would be more than fine for an organization to pursue a social agenda of promoting gay rights, or environmental protection, or “natural foods.” But to promote any agenda that isn’t in conformity to the values espoused by what I am calling the cultural elites is seen as an evil. This kind of issue highlights the problems with that and the potential loss of freedom as a result of the extreme reaction of the promoters of a cause when they find out someone doesn’t agree with them. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

      1. There’s no doubt that there are some very polarized topics, with “elites” on both sides. Pro-life vs. pro-choice, for example. Elites on both sides have solid arguments and convictions, although one side probably gains the favor of “mainstream media” which leans left. Taking the opposite position is often swimming against the tide. And when you’re an organization that sells products to the general public…taking an opposite position is risky. However, if arguments and convictions are strong enough, these organizations should maintain its position and be true to its values. It’s better than trying to say “we’re for both sides” and then act one-sided.

        Whether this is the case with Chick-fil-A or not, on this particular issue, time will tell. I just hope they’re being authentic.

        1. I forgot to add one thing. Regardless of all this hoop-la, they make a great sandwich and the customer service of a Chick-fil-A is typically superior to others in the QSR category. So, the focus on their core business is teriffic, regardless of any focus on other social or religious issues. Yum!

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