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Chick-fil-A, politics and social media: A cautionary tale

Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain that is wildly popular
Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain that is wildly popular in other parts of the country for its chicken sandwich.

Have you been following the contretemps involving Chick-fil-A and same-sex marriage? It’s one of those sagas that tickles a newsie’s reportorial fancy, containing more improbable twists than anything one might make up were one in the business of writing, say, sitcoms or old-fashioned farces.

It’s also a cautionary tale for businesses that dabble both in politics and social media, but let’s dispense with the stranger-than-fiction first.

Chick-fil-A, for the uninitiated among us, is a fast-food chain that is wildly popular in other parts of the country for its chicken sandwich, which you can order with waffle fries and, for a limited time, a hand-spun peach shake.

There are two outposts here, one in Dinkytown in Minneapolis and the other at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s Terminal 1-Lindbergh, near Gate C13.

Till now, a very quiet boycott

Gay and lesbian rights groups have long boycotted Chick-fil-A over its donations to anti-gay causes, including groups campaigning against same-sex marriage and an organization that purports to “cure” gays. Until recently, however, it was a very quiet boycott.

Few knew that founder Truett Cathy had firm opinions about the personal lives of the owners of Chick-fil-A’s 1,600 franchises and their employees. He preferred them married, and expected adherence to the company’s stated mission to “glorify God.”

“Family members of prospective operators — children, even — are frequently interviewed so Cathy and his family can learn more about job candidates and their relationships at home,” Forbes reported in 2007, when Cathy was 86.

" 'If a man can't manage his own life, he can't manage a business,’ says Cathy, who says he would probably fire an employee or terminate an operator who ‘has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members.’ "

'Guilty as charged'

The company is now run by Dan Cathy, who sparked a ruckus by telling the Baptist Press that the company is committed to traditional marriage.

Dan Cathy
Dan Cathy

" 'Guilty as charged,’ said Cathy when asked about the company's position,” the publication reported last week. "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.”

On Friday, the Jim Henson Company announced that, in response, it was ending its relationship with Chick-fil-A, which had been distributing miniature muppets in its children’s meals. Chick-fil-A responded in turn by announcing that the day before, July 19, it had recalled the puppets because of “reports of children getting their fingers stuck in the holes of the puppets.”

Protesters planned a “National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A” for Aug. 3 and Mike Huckabee called for a “Chick-fil-A Day” Aug. 1. (Will Minnesotans on either side of the issue make it past the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints to attend either the kissing protest or the chicken-gobbling one? Send us an Instagram if you do and we’ll report it.)  

Elected officials in Boston and Chicago vowed to make it much, much harder for the chain to open new franchises within their borders. At the Twitter hashtag #ChickFilGay, folks purporting to have the secret sandwich recipe offered solace to gay-rights supporters undergoing withdrawal.

Leaving the arena

On July 19, the company posted a statement on its Facebook page that was doubtless intended to quell the uproar. “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” it read in part. “From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business.”

To date, the statement has garnered 84,000 “likes” and nearly 30,000 comments ranging from the profane to insistent that “The Original,” the sandwich that started it all, is unpalatable. A Monday post asking visitors to take a “peachy poll” about its latest milkshake flavor and a Tuesday “best cow costume contest” update pushed the comment thread a little lower on the page but failed to put out the conflagration.

“The company,” Forbes reported, “flunked crisis PR 101 and spawned a social-media firestorm with its inept handling of the issue.”

The debut of Abby Farle

Wednesday, a supposed screenshot of the comment thread — no, Your Humble Blogger did not read all 30,000 comments — made the Internet rounds. The posters accused Chick-fil-A of creating a fictional (and marginally literate) teen, Abby Farle, equipping her with a headshot downloaded from a stock photo agency and having her spring to the chain’s defense.

Chick-Fil-A Facebook Thread

Twitter only poured kerosene on things. “I need a shirt that says: I hated Chik-fil-a [sic] for their Judeo-Christian nonsense before it was cool,” tweeted Indy McDaniel, aka@steelcorpfilms.

So what are Minnesota businesses, many of which have voiced their opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, to make of this?

First, we can hope they have learned the same lesson grownups have been trying to drill into the hormonally sodden craniums of teens everywhere: Once you’ve put it on Facebook, you don’t control it. And if you lose control in a bad way, your best bet is to try to steer the conversation back to peach shakes and grand openings.

'You must respond quickly'

“The speed at which this happened couldn’t have taken place anywhere else but Facebook or perhaps Twitter,” said Chris Duffy, an online strategist with the public-affairs communications concern Goff Public. “If it breaks out on social media you must respond quickly. No longer do you have 12 hours to think about it before the headlines appear in the newspaper in the morning.”

How?

“Try to bring the focus back to your main product,” Duffy said, adding that most likely he’d counseling leaving the page up. “I think a business has to stand behind its Facebook page. Either take it down permanently or try to steer the conversation away from your political beliefs and it’ll probably go away pretty quickly given the pace of the news cycle.”

Better, in his opinion, to think carefully before you post. “Many people choose their brands based on emotions, and for many what happened here is probably enough,” Duffy said. “If you’re in an industry that serves customers directly, such as hospitality or restaurants, when you’re a leader in that industry and you make public your views about, say, the rights of gays and lesbians, you’d better be prepared.”

Stakes are different for 'branded house'

Akshay Rao is a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School and a Facebook avoider. As such, he’s in no position to comment on the management of one’s social-media profile, he said, but he does have a couple of opinions.

First and foremost, the Chick-fil-A story throws into stark relief the experiences of the large Minnesota companies that have carefully articulated their support for same-sex marriage rights in recent months. “I think Marilyn Carlson Nelson has done extremely well, I think General Mills has done extremely well, as well as St. Jude and Target,” which recently added GLBT greeting cards to its inventory.

Second, when a consumer boycott is a possibility, the stakes are very different for any of those “houses of brands” than a “branded house” like Chick-fil-A than. “General Mills has Cheerios and Yoplait and Betty Crocker,” he said. “If someone is going to boycott them, they are going to have to create a shopping list of brands.”

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Comments (51)

An ominous line

"Elected officials in Boston and Chicago vowed to make it much, much harder for the chain to open new franchises within their borders."

Whatever one's position on this issue, all should cringe at the thought of government officials taking punitive action against CFA. The 1st amendment is intended to shelter us all.

Depends on of you view it as a political or a civil rights issue

Yes, you are correct, if you view it as a political issue, no different than welfare reform, or who to tax, or what to name the next post office.

However, many view this issue as a civil rights issue, even if it has political ramifications. Isn't it our civic leaders job to fight for and protect our civil rights? If the mayor sees this as a civil rights issue this is exactly his job.

Protecting our rights

I don't want elected officials to make a case-by-case decision on whose rights get protected. Put another way, would you feel good about Mayor Michelle Bachmann making this kind of call?

This is actually a situation where the marketplace will provide the solution. If enough people stay away because of their stance on gay rights, they will either have to change their position or be relegated to being a regional chain in bubba-land. Let the Mike Huckabees of the world stuff their faces with this stuff until their cheeks explode--the rest of us don't have to participate.

Incorrect

You would be right if Chick-fil-A has done something that did violate a civil right, such as a targeted hiring policy that is anti-gay or anti-black or something along those lines.

Lacking that though, no, the mayor is in direct conflict of the 1st Amendment, which is to protect individuals free speech from government. There are numerous Supreme Court precedents on this, like Board of County Commissioners v Umbehr or Rust v Sullivan.

Denying a building permit, a contract, or a business license to a business though based off a company stance, value, speech, etc.. is a 1st Amendment violation.

Now, the mayor may be right, maybe Chick-fil-A won't succeed in Boston, but that is for the market to decide. If people do not agree with the company's stance, they won't make money and go bankrupt in that location. That is for the market and citizens to decide, if they want to choose to shop there or not based on this (or if they really care about this at all). It's not for government to stifle because someone said something they mayor doesn't agree with.

Couldn't Agree More

Or as Glenn Greewald said at Salon today:

"If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who support same-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents. You can’t cheer when political officials punish the expression of views you dislike and then expect to be taken seriously when you wrap yourself in the banner of free speech in order to protest state punishment of views you like and share. Free speech rights means that government officials are barred from creating lists of approved and disapproved political ideas and then using the power of the state to enforce those preferences."

http://www.salon.com/2012/07/26/rahm_emanuels_free_speech_attack/

Couldn't agree more

I am all for gay marriage but I have a problem with a government official blocking their expansion. I say let them build where they want and let the public decide if they want to go there. I don't need a politician doing that for me.

U of M

The U of M has a Chick-fil-A in the Coffman student union. A letter to the U got this response:

University Dining Services respects the diverse backgrounds, styles, values and beliefs of its customers, clients and employees and strives to offer choice and variety to UDS customers. We are aware of media attention and allegations related to Chick-fil-A's business model and are in communication with Chick-fil-A at the ARAMARK corporate level. UDS also plans to reach out to Student Affairs on the U of M campus to discuss your concerns.

I was wondering if it was still there

The U of M was the only place I've ever had one of their sandwiches, and it was mushy and bland. I did not finish it. This is before I knew any of the politics behind the company. They aren't scoring any more points with me now. I would hope the U of MN does the right thing.

You hope what?

The University will expel a Christian business because they believe in normal marriages? Is that it?

No

The U of M is an equal opportunity employer. They cannot discriminate based on many factors, including sexual orientation. Further, the U of M goes beyond being an equal opportunity employer, and has a mission to embrace diversity. A business that does not has no place at the U of M. The students will hopefully have their voices heard. And even if there are dissenting voices, the policy of equity and diversity must be upheld.

Not so.

They advertise race-exclusive scholarships.

They justify it by their failure to enforce their own policies and to obey Minnesota law.

And I can prove it.

Go ahead. Just ask me for the proof.

Go for it.

I'm all for proof. So, go for it.

Uh...one scholarship

So, you found one scholarship that you chose to harass the University about. I think this was just a way to get someone, anyone, to read your blog.

The scholarship you refer to is not run by the University, but like many other scholarships, is available to students in order to help pay for their education. (Criminy--I'd think you'd be happy that they're not getting government funding.) You know what? Lots of universities make entire BOOKS of scholarships available to students. In those books, you'll find scholarships that require you to be Irish to apply, require you to be a girl to apply, require you to be...*gasp*...non-white to apply. Give me an ever loving break.

"Uh...one scholarship"

As valid as "But I'm only a little bit pregnant"...and based upon the same lack of logic.

Zing!

Or not. I'm a last word kind of person, but I'll let you follow up on this one (for whatever perceived win there is) because it's no longer possible to stay on topic while responding to these posts.

"The scholarship you refer to is not run by the University"

Neither is Chick-fil-a

Yes it is.

"So, you found one scholarship that you chose to harass the University about. I think this was just a way to get someone, anyone, to read your blog."

Argue the facts I presented, and do not resort to argumentum ad hominem. Thank you for your cooperation.

"The scholarship you refer to is not run by the University..."

Yes it is. The University is part of the consortium that sponsors it. Go back and read my blog post again. The University, a government institution, is a party to the sponsorship and advertisement of a race exclusive scholarship. It is against the law.

Erm...

No one, not even the leftist Emperors of Chicago, Boston and SF have accused Chick-fil-a of discrimination, Rachel.

Also, I wonder if you read this statement through again you mightn't see why I find it so amusing.

"And even if there are dissenting voices, the policy of equity and diversity must be upheld."

Believe what you want

"No one, not even the leftist Emperors of Chicago, Boston and SF have accused Chick-fil-a of discrimination, Rachel."

I think you'll find that to be wrong in a lot of ways.

As for the dissenting voices/equity statement, you can find it amusing all you want. The policy is "equity and diversity." It has a specific meaning. If you don't like it (i.e., you're a dissenting voice), too bad. There may be irony in the statement, but it's completely true. Not all opinions are equal.

"Not all opinions are equal."

As you are always so kind as to demonstrate, certainly not all are as well founded in fact or logic as others, but everyone is free to weigh the opinions of others by whatever metric one chooses.

Lawn Signs

I frequented a gas station nearby that suddenly sprouted political lawn signs on the boulevard. I haven't been back since and I probably won't go back.

It doesn't make sense for a business owner to be red or blue when the people are all green $$$. Keep your religion in church and your politics in the voting booth or risk losing customers who disagree with you.

Or you could be like Target, put on a happy face with gay greeting cards and GLBT outreach groups while secretly funneling money to Republican anti-gay politicians through stealth campaigns. The lawn sign says "We're good! We're nice! We love gay people!" If you make a big enough lawn sign, it can hide a lot. It is very difficult to peek around it to see what is really going on back there.

Money is the primary reason for doing things?

"It doesn't make sense for a business owner to be red or blue when the people are all green $$$."

You mean that gas station owner must subordinate his personal beliefs to his income. Is there a law that says the owner must maximize income and do nothing to obstruct that?

Should any company that sells replacement parts for Edsels and Studebakers change their business model?

CFA owners

I am not sure that what the politicos in Chicago plan to do is legal. It is not illegal for a company to have owners that are bigots.

Bigots?

Because someone or a company believes that the institution of marriage is between one man and one woman makes them a bigot? Are you kidding?
Man is this country going downhill fast. This country will pay a heavy price for the destruction of the family. The traditional family has always been the backbone of society. When the traditional family collapses the country will follow. Mark my words on this Alan.

I don't know how old you are but watch what will happen to America over the next decade. When the government puts laws in place to destroy the traditional family it ain't gonna be pretty.

CFA owners

"It is not illegal for a company to have owners that are bigots".

Bigots defined as those people who condemn nominal Jewish and Christian marriages.

Correct.

Deliberately obtuse?

Who is condemning "nominal Jewish and Christian marriages?" For that matter, what on earth is a "nominal marriage?"

Human rights are not a zero-sum game. Granting the right to marry to same-sex couples is in no way diminishing or condemning the rights or marriages of opposite-sex couples.

As direct as it gets

"nominal marriage" is the same as a normal marriage, and reasonable person with reasonable intelligence knows exactly how marriage is defined.

Anything else is deliberate obscurantist rhetoric or intellectual dishonesty.

You bet!

As a reasonable person with reasonable intelligence, I understand that marriage is an institution that should be available to any two single adults of any gender who are in love with one another and wish to formally and legally recognize their commitment. (And no - I'm not including close relatives in this, so don't even go there.)

Those who argue against this as a valid understanding of what marriage is are almost certainly employing deliberate obscurantist rhetoric or intellectual dishonesty.

Or maybe they just have something against love.

Whoa. Hold it.

"And no - I'm not including close relatives in this, so don't even go there."

Why not? You say "I understand that marriage is an institution that should be available to any two single adults of any gender who are in love with one another and wish to formally and legally recognize their commitment"..why not two brothers; two sisters; mom and son or daughter?

As a reasonable person with reasonable intelligence what is the justification for your discrimination?

Nice try

Not biting.

Nomimal

Means "in name.". That doesn't change if people you don't like get married.

As direct as it gets - corrected

Corrected to "normative".

"normative marriage" is the same as a normal marriage, and reasonable person with reasonable intelligence knows exactly how marriage is defined.

Anything else is deliberate obscurantist rhetoric or intellectual dishonesty.

Fixed.

First Amendment

As many others have said, in many other contexts, we don’t need a First Amendment for the speech with which we agree. It’s there for the speech with which we, or the majority, disagree, and may even find distasteful. Former Vice-President Cheney and current Congresswoman Bachmann are among those who need to be reminded of this from time to time. I have to agree with James Hamilton. The prospect of government making it more difficult for a business to operate because that business advocates and/or supports a point of view with which the government vehemently disagrees or finds disparaging, is more than a little troubling.

When Chck-fil-A was much more of a fledgling company, I sampled their products when I lived in St. Louis. I like the sandwich. I like the waffle fries. Once I found out the company was run by religious fundamentalists, who expected employees to toe the line of Baptist orthodoxy, I decided there were other, equally-worthy (or unhealthy, depending upon your view of fast food) of my dining-out dollar. I’ve not patronized a Chick-fil-A for many years as a result, and would not do so if one opened a block from my house.

That, rather than criticism from local government, seems to me a better way to do my part not to support the business’s underlying philosophy. Mr. Cathy is entitled to say exactly what he thinks ("Guilty as charged"). At least he is up-front and honest about his particular prejudice. I am not, however, obligated to agree with or support his view.

Another reason not to eat Chick-Fil-A

How 'bout we all avoid fast food altogether, or as much as we possibly can, because it makes us a nation of fatties? If McDonald's comes out in full support of gay rights and gay marriage (which I vociferously support), I'm STILL not going to eat there because its food is unhealthy corporate-ag garbage.
Also, I've always been annoyed that Chick-Fil-A's "Eat Mor Chikin" campaign promoted poor spelling. You may laugh, but I bet there are plenty of kids in Chick-Fil-A-heavy states who spell "more" and "chicken" that way because they've seen so many ads.

Free Speech

Free speech may be a right in America but not on this website.

MinnPost has commenting guidelines

MinnPost has commenting guidelines

"MinnPost is a ... nonpartisan enterprise..."

Like the Minnesota League of Women Voters - right?

Sounds Familar

Gee Pat you sound like our current government. "We don't care what the Constitution says we make the rules".

Except . . .

. . . this is not a government-run or sponsored site.

If you had ever read the First Amendment, you would know that it doesn't apply to actions taken by private individuals.

Nope, no bigotry there.

"I need a shirt that says: I hated Chik-fil-a [sic] for their Judeo-Christian nonsense before it was cool,” tweeted Indy McDaniel, aka ‏@steelcorpfilms."

The lesson?

I think the lesson here for chick-whatever or any other business is that you're entitled to your beliefs but when you serve the public you best not promote intolerance and bigotry lest someone notice. If you want to compete in the market place fine, but you compete on religious and ideological landscapes at your own peril. And no matter what your PR is, if your promoting intolerance and bigotry there ain't enough lipstick.

Rules for posting

The primary rule for posting on Minnpost is minimum expectation of integrity and respect. The only people that have a problem with this seem to be Republicans who think Fox news is actually fair and balanced.

I think Minnpost has some of the best comment content in the nation. For the record, I've had a number of my comments blocked as well. While I don't always agree with the rationale, I'm not whining about it and I continue to write comments. Listen, if you can't write a comment that Minnpost will publish, the problem isn't Minnpost.

As for partisanship, again it always seems to be be Republicans who can't get their heads around the difference between bias and partisan. Obviously Minnpost has a liberal bias, but they are NOT affiliated with any political party.

A quick note on the bias: one of the most frustrating things for me personally over the last several decades has been the liberal reaction of denial or apology of some kind when accused of being "liberal". There's nothing about liberalism that requires apology or embarrassment. It's been a relief to see formats like Minnpost embrace their liberalism to some extent instead of denying it as if it's a crime of kind.

Minimum expectation of integrity and respect

Mr. Udstrand wrote:

"The primary rule for posting on Minnpost is minimum expectation of integrity and respect. The only people that have a problem with this seem to be Republicans who think Fox news is actually fair and balanced.'"

Translation:

"The primary rule for posting on Minnpost is minimum expectation of integrity and respect. The only people that have a problem with this seem to be Republicans, who are anti-intellectual, benighted fools".

Remember, Mr. Udstrand, the primary rule for posting on Minnpost is minimum expectation of integrity and respect.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

Translation?

Neal, you can write whatever you want, but it's dishonest to legitimize it as an "translation" of someone else's words. A translation is a conversion of something someone has said into a language others can understand, it's not a conversion of something someone has said into something YOU want to say. Say what you want to say, but don't pretend you're speaking for someone else, again a little integrity and respect would go a long way. When and if I see it, I'll thank you for it. Meantime if you're ever having trouble understanding something that I've written, all you need do is ask, I'll be happy to clarify. Your cooperation in this matter would be appreciated.

Yes, translation.

Or interpretation.

You choose.

You're not big on nuance, are you?

There's a fairly significant difference between what is meant by "translation" v.s. what is meant by "interpretation" - particularly in the way you used it.

It was my extreme pleasure...

...to have the opportunity to book 12 rooms in Grand Rapids two weeks ago, that opportunity having given me the chance NOT to book them at the Country Suites.

I've also taken Carlson companies off the list of acceptable accommodations on my corporate travel portfolio. As a consumer, that's is my right...as a rejection of the gay junta that is waging war on science, common sense and our families it's my duty.

I didn't need any further proof that leftist ideology is a hollow shell, but the sure knowledge that it would never have occurred to me to contact the mayor of GR in hopes he or she would tell Carlson companies they were no longer welcome provided it anyway.

Gay...junta

That's a pretty big leap. Also, I'd rather you leave science out of it. It's got nothing to do with your point of view.

Rights!

Lets get real...the man was on a Baptist religious program when he was interviewed. It isnt as though he was being interviewed by Forbes or NYT. Give me a break! Hes entitled to his view. I mean seriously are we disagreeing with his view ... After all, if it wasnt for hetero relationships, we wouldnt be here to express our views. If i went to a chinese restaurant to eat, or a mediterranean restaurant to eat, am I going to be angry at them because their cultural or religious views do not coincide with mine? I certainly dont boycott them because they're buddhist or jewish or islamic or whatever... they're entitled to their beliefs and as long as they arent infringing on my views or refusing to serve me because I dont agree with them, I'm not going too be anhry with them for their views or beliefs. He never said anything hateful, je only expressed his own personal view. If an American cant verbally express his own beliefs, even if they arent kosher with yours, without being attacked by liberal media, are we a free country after all??

Freedom of religion

What happened to America? Reverse discrimination is not kosher either. If you are an LGBT, then be. But, just as you want your view to be respected, Cathey has that same wish without being attacked for his and especially scrutinized by media for his religious beliefs.