If the media reports an earthquake was a breeze in the forest, did the earth still move? I’m not sure TownHall Finance is the natural venue for that question, but I’m also not sure why the Denver Post—my local paper—put a significant political and cultural event on page umpty-something, in the business section.
If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you might have missed something big last week. Under fire by gay activists and their media amplifiers, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy unapologetically confirmed he supports the biblical definition of family as he understands it. This modern heresy quickly went viral. Reaction was harsh. Big city mayors and councilors channeled Al Capone with a badge: “Don’t file no stinking permit applications in our town, Chick-fil-A!” Pundits nodded righteously. But, what happened next didn’t follow the script.
Backlash welled up, not just from social conservatives, but fiscal conservatives and libertarians, outraged that politicians would trample the First Amendment, brandishing political litmus tests for the right to do business. Social media and web commentary buzzed with rebellion. A great day of fried chicken and Chick-fil-A appreciation was proposed.
Last Wednesday, I met friends in north suburban Denver at about 11 to beat the rush. Fail. The lot was packed, the drive-thru and building tightly coiled by a boa of cars, tail extending to the street. Inside was standing room only, with a switch-back line that triggered post-Disney traumatic stress. Yet, amid the din, cheer was high. The besieged staff moved helpfully and efficiently, and the line shuffled like a smooth deck of cards.
The friendly mob cycled through, holding steady in size the hour I was there. Judging scientifically by anecdotal Facebook posts, it stayed that way all day and evening, at every Chick-fil-A around Denver, throughout the state, and across the nation. The outpouring was unforeseen, the magnitude unimaginable. The chain’s coffers got a short- and probably long-term boost.
After 20 years around politics, I’ve seen how activists can generate pretty good ink just from a press release and 50 people on the Capitol steps in front of a borrowed guitar amplifier. I also know how hard groups sometimes have to hustle to assemble their 50. So I was eager to see what the media would make of this human tide.
Thursday’s Denver Post business page answered: “Coloradans voice their opinions on Chick-fil-A; Outlets flooded by supporters and opponents.” Not even close. Without space to fully deconstruct, I’ll acknowledge the article did say the crowds were large and the protesters few. But the headline and details caught maybe half the story and missed the essence. A few thoughts, on the event and the coverage:
Especially without any central organizer or major media promotion, the numbers were staggering, and broadly replicated across the country. If a protest warrants a story, this event deserves a Pulitzer-nominated multi-part investigative series.
It wasn’t a forum about the First Amendment, Cathy’s marriage views, or even political bullying. Whatever their motivation, the crowd arrived as a smiling, hungry lunch and dinner crew. It was a massive show of implicit support and protest, for reasons that deserve examination.
My table included a friend who supports civil unions, one for gay marriage, and one who thinks government should get out of the marriage business, letting people and churches make their own agreeable arrangements. We didn’t discuss the fourth person’s view, or anyone else’s that day, because lunch was don’t ask don’t tell.
It’s clear many diners intended to rebuke bullying politicians and the un-American idea that approved political views are required for permission to be in business. Does this resentment go further, and reflect anger at transgressed lines between private and public management, corporate and government bedfellows sharing money, policies, and favors? Is that resentment building toward a November eruptian?
Another strong positive is rejection of a vicious double standard: One side airs views through a respectful media, while others get vilified for different opinions. It’s breathtaking that liberals seek to redefine fundamental cultural concepts and muzzle the opposition; those who question or disagree should be attacked and cowed into silence, even while they speak for majority opinion. That happened with California’s ballot measure on marriage, as more than one financial supporter was hounded from high profile jobs. Wednesday was a salutary fist at that ugly trend.
Finally, what to make of the subdued coverage. Did our scribes not recognize an important cultural moment? Because it doesn’t interest them or flatter their vision? That’s the fish-don’t-know-they’re-wet view of media bias. Or, do they know full well and work carefully to contain the story? Of course, either way, the effect is the same.