The Facebook page of Mark Krzos is like many others. He's married to a beautiful woman. He really likes the band Ween. He posted an awesome Wilco performance from Jimmy Fallon the other night. He lets friends know that he's incredulous that one congressman views an HHS mandate as a serious problem. He hopes that Gore Vidal rests in peace. There's some hockey stuff. He really doesn't like Mitt Romney. Like, really doesn't like him. He is a huge fan of President Barack Obama. He's got a post with the note "We are a PROUD city" showing the letter Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent Chick-fil-A telling them that their CEO's religious views meant that there was "no place" in Boston for Chick-fil-A. There's some other anti-Chick-fil-A stuff. Some mockery of creationists. The usual. Why am I mentioning all this? Because of another part of his Facebook page that an alarmed reader sent me. Turns out he's a journalist. A staff writer for the News-Press, a Gannett newspaper in Fort Myers, Florida.
Now before I get to the note, let me share something personal. Like many other Americans, I ate at Chick-fil-A yesterday. We went early for dinner. The location -- Crystal City, Virginia -- was crowded. We sat down next to a striking woman who came in to eat on the way to a class she's teaching. But then she told me she was there because she believes in freedom of speech. Her sister in Baltimore had called her and told her that lines had been out the door there and that many people were coming into the store to support the company against the boycott and threats facing the company.
Soon the line was going out the door. It was almost like a party atmosphere. Lots of families. Lots of mothers. I saw a friend and his son and I joked that the food tasted like freedom and the whole line kind of laughed. It was obvious that people were there for a reason.
As we talked with people (my oldest daughter will talk to anyone and this gets us in lots of conversations), we learned that people were there for a number of reasons. Some hate government attacks on free speech or religion. Some wanted to support traditional values. Some wanted to support a fellow Christian. And, yes, I'm sure some just wanted a perfectly fried chicken sandwich. Maybe all of the above. I heard a lot -- a lot -- about frustration with the media. But I sat there and thought, "If only a reporter would come and sit down and talk to these people, they might get a better understanding of how people outside their newsrooms think."
I wondered how the media would cover the story. Would they really "get" what happened across the country in this massive, somewhat odd, chicken sandwich protest? Would they understand what this diverse group of people were trying to say? Or would they just paint it as, sigh, another example of bigoted people who should be shunned? Who don't deserve fair media treatment? Who should be painted in the worst possible light? Would they fail to even mention the day in a story, as a friend tells me the Washington Post did? He said the only thing he could find in the paper was a photo on page A11 (there's this video on the web site today).
So with all that said, let me share with you staff writer Mark Krzos' note:
RE: Chik-fil-A controversy I have never felt so alien in my own country as I did today while covering the restaurant's supporters. The level of hatred, unfounded fear and misinformed people was astoundingly sad. I can't even print some of the things people said.
The first comment comes from another journalist named Joseph Anthony. He lists his job as "Anchor/Reporter at WBBH NBC2/ WZVN ABC7." His comment is "agreed." A lively comment thread ensues. Krzos claims that the people he met were talking mean about "immigrants." When someone says something about bigots, he responds "It was like broken records of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and a recitation of half-truths and outright lies." There's some negativity about Fox and then Krzos says:
Such a brave stand ... eating a goddamn sandwich.
Various people "like" these comments, including some more reporters. His friends beg him to print the goods and he says he couldn't because it was just too vile and, well, the people wouldn't give him their names. People suggest he just refer to the rampant "racist and homophobic slurs" and another friend writes "I'll be on the side with scientists, hippies, NORMAL white people, fellow black folk, mexicans (and street gangs), gays , and technology vs. Jim Bob and Bobby Sue and all the toothless rednecks that REALLY hate America." Mark Krzos "likes" that comment.
When someone with a Jerry Garcia profile photo suggests he should have thrown waffle fries at the customers -- or challenged them to a game of "gay chicken" -- he responds "John... too bad there wasn't another reporter around to go with me and film it. I really wanted to do the interviews on camera while eating out of a bucket of KFC."
I'm leaving out a ton of stuff on the thread. The slurs against "Bible-based haters." The discussion of how to physically attack Chick-fil-As. The messages were shared by reporters, including someone from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel who says it was "something to consider" and a FoxNews.com reporter who says in response to someone that "we know that's not the case" that the customers are standing up for free speech,
So obviously the first thing I wanted to do was find out how Krzos' story turned out. I mean, I have worked with some seriously political journalists who can just turn off their political views and just do a great job reporting when called upon. But I was curious. Would this level of bigotry against Christians, this level of interpretation about the average Chick-fil-A customer be able to managed?
I mean, to be clear, while Krzos' account is dramatically different from literally everything I've heard from friends and family members across the country, maybe he did happen to come across a place that was magically different. Maybe he did. Maybe his previous strenuous bias against the company had nothing to do with what he reported on. I don't know. But I am curious how his story turned out. Unfortunately I can't find it.
The weird thing is that the News-Press has a story on the local deluge of customers. It's just not written by Krzos. And it's good -- seems to capture the mood I and my friends and families experienced while also giving background on the story and a voice to those who oppose Chick-fil-A. But it's written by someone else. The lede is "They came for free speech, they came for traditional values and they came for waffle fries."
Do let us know if you see any good or bad coverage. I thought this Los Angeles Times story was fine but had a stupid headline and overplayed some incidents from spectators and protesters. The LA Times also, of course, ran a bigoted, error-prone and hate-filled screed (from what I hear is its business writer) against Christians the day before the day Chick-fil-A had record sales under the headline "Chick-fil-A gets a lesson on corporate outspokenness." That's not just a problem of bad timing. The Huntsville Times had a pretty good angle for its coverage.
UPDATE: There are many interesting comments in the thread below, but I wanted to highlight this one from Patrick Heavey:
I emailed the higher-ups at the News-Press about Mr. Krozs’s posts, and got an almost immediate response:
“This was not authorized and was done without knowledge of The News-Press. It has been taken down and we are dealing with the reporter for his personal note. We regret this happened. This is not what we stand for and we will not tolerate it. Our front page coverage this morning was balanced and reflected on what was happening.
Terry Eberle Executive Editor/Vice President of Content”
The paper did the right thing, and should be commended for it.
Photo of a hater via Shutterstock.