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MSM & Chick-fil-A: The Internet often honors stupid stories

Last week I saw Chick-fil-A trending on Google and thought there must be some delicious promotion, some sort of free sandwich you get for dressing up like a cow. Eager to get a freebie, I clicked through to find out why people were searching.

Surprise! Chick fil-A's president Dan Cathy says, "We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit." Or if you put it the way the media puts it, Dan Cathy does not support gay marriage.

Wait, don't we already know this? Please tell me people -- on the left or the right -- don't think this is still news.

Oh my gosh, it seems that people really do think it's news. People on the Internet are just discovering that Chick-fil-A, which is closed on Sundays, is a Christian-run business with a Christian owner who believes in traditional Christian doctrines. People of the Internet (at least the ones who drive traffic) are shocked! Shocked, I tell you. And I'm shocked that they're shocked, so it's shocking all around.

The same thing happened in early 2011, and the best legitimate coverage I remember coming out of it was from Dan Gilgoff at CNN. He did a piece explaining "the controversy" and why it was a recipe for controversy. CNN has the latest on its Belief Blog, including recycling its old but smart post on 10 religious companies besides Chick-fil-A. There are even companies like this that are less obvious, so maybe I'll write about them myself at some point.

Story ideas abound that are actually legitimate and reveal something about Christians and business. But elsewhere those stories are not being covered. As tmatt put it last week:

Now, one would assume — after reading a reference to the “comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage” — that this interview from the Biblical Recorder in North Carolina (which was circulated by Baptist Press) actually included direct quotes from Cathy in which he talks about, well, gay marriage.

What did Dan Cathy say?

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. …

“We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized. “We intend to stay the course,” he said. “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.”

Did you just drop your computer? I know, it's shocking. I almost passed out, too. Because last time I checked, 42 percent oppose gay marriage while 48 percent favor gay marriage. Or 31 percent of Protestants support gay marriage while 59 percent oppose it. So why does this shock if it kind of, sort of, actually mirrors the country and Cathy's own religious beliefs?

Last week, I thought this controversy would blow over. Give it a day. It'll go away. I felt like a little kid with his hands planted up against his ears while his divorcing parents were fighting. Please just stop and tell me when it's over. But it doesn't end. It keeps going. The media, desperate for clicks, blogs and writes and investigates and prods and reports and covers this very important lame story that we are just discovering already know. It's really amazing, I tell you.

Stories tend to die over the weekend. With all the Colorado shooting stories, the important news from the presidential campaigns, I think surely the media will move on to the next hot trend. But no! It doesn't stop! It snowballs into something bigger. You either LOVE Chick-fil-A or you HATE Chick-fil-A, you can't separate the product from the person behind it. It's like Tim Tebow. We can't simply evaluate him as a good or bad football player. We have to know everything where he stands because he could tear the nation into pieces. Oh my gosh. It's as if the media has stuck its audience's heads into a toilet for an information swirlie. But don't let me make broad, sweeping generalizations about the horrifying nature of this story. Let me offer Case #1:

Newsweek somehow allows one of its employees to write this sentence:

Chick-Fil-A came under criticism this month after a report by the organization Equality Matters revealed that the company donated around $2 million to antigay Christian organizations in 2010. “Guilty as charged,” the fast-food chain’s president Dan Cathy said over allegations that his company is antigay (“We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit.”).

So. Here we are. Tumblr, listen up.

We’re hoping to find a current or former employee of Chick-Fil-A who might want to spill the beans on life inside the alleged antigay company.

"We’re hoping to find a current or former employee of Chick-Fil-A who might want to spill the beans on life inside the alleged antigay company."

If that’s you, or you know someone who might want to talk to us, please email brian.ries@newsweekdailybeast.com. And if you’d like to help spread the word of our search, a reblog or a tweet would be most appreciated.

Initially, I thought, OK, please let that person be the 20-year-old summer intern going rogue on this thing we call Tumblr.

No! It's not! It's Newsweek's veteran social media editor. Please stop! Do not destroy journalism through Tumblr and reveal your biases. Do not show how blatantly slanted your outlet is, at least keep it internal. The hilarious part about social media is that you often get to see what reporters really think, who they really love, who they really hate. Yes, a religion is often the brunt of it. God forbid you believe anything specific and let it influence how you understand the world.

[Quick update: The Atlantic Wire is reporting that Newsweek will probably end its print edition as soon as this fall. I really hate it when media outlets die in some form, but truly: who is running that ship into the ground?]

There is a huge trend the media is not capturing (maybe because Bobby already did last year) where Internet petitions target Christian groups for taking a stand on something. We saw it with TOMS Shoes and Focus on the Family, Starbucks and Willow Creek, Exodus International and Apple, Komen and Planned Parenthood. These stories aren't new, but taken all together, you have one big scared group of powerful people. Can a CEO of a non-religious corporation take a personal view about anything? Will the free market and the Internet allow that?

These are huge questions that probably started back when the Southern Baptists boycotted Disney pre-Internet days. A fun question to ask would be: did conservative Christians set up a system to backfire on themselves when popular opinion goes against them? Another fun question would be: who is the loudest right now when the country is literally divided in half on some of these issues? Are corporations ever going to be able to give to any charitable organizations that have opinions? Do people really want a world where Bill Gates can't give millions of dollars to religious organizations to mitigate AIDS? Anyone can stop eating at Chick-fil-A, but should the Internet scare corporate CEOs into bland nothingness? Is corporate money vs. a CEO's personal time and money separate from one another? There are so many legitimate questions to be asking that have nothing to do with what's actually being written.

A friend posted the following on Facebook:

I also can't help but notice a disproportionate amount of criticism being leveled at Chick-fil-A compared with that of a company like American Apparel, whose CEO is basically a sexual predator.

Hey, media, let's direct all this rage equally. Am I going to go out and eat Chick-fil-A? Who cares! Oh, wait, if I don't care, am I saying something about what I believe? I don't even know anymore. Thank you, Internet, for destroying my appetite for anything. It's been a rough week for the media and the Internet. People are on vacation, not everyone can cover the Colorado shootings, reporters are high strung and under pressures now more than ever. But please, use this energy appropriately. Do not simply honor the Internet gods on this story.

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