So, for those of you who keep sending me links: Yes, I heard that the Rev. Jordan Brown of Austin recently announced that his #hatecake lawsuit against Whole Foods was a hoax.
Well, that wasn't exactly what he said. Hold that thought.
Now, I will admit that I didn't see that hoax story when it went viral on social media -- because it didn't go viral on social media (like the earlier story in which Brown made his accusations). This lack of social-media activity is one of two angles in the story that still interest me.
Wait, maybe this story didn't trend on Facebook the second time around because. ... Oh well, nevermind.
Looking at the small amount of coverage this story received, the Austin American-Statesman report was rather interesting because of what it didn't come right out and say. Take that headline for example: "Pastor to drop lawsuit against Whole Foods over anti-gay slur on cake."
So why is he dropping his lawsuit?
The man who accused Whole Foods Market of writing a homophobic slur on a cake will drop a lawsuit against the grocery chain.
“The company did nothing wrong,” Jordan Brown, a pastor of a small Austin church, said in a statement. “I was wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story.”
Brown had sued Whole Foods on April 18, announcing the lawsuit publicly while flanked by his lawyers. He emotionally told reporters that he had ordered a cake with “Love wins” written in frosting, Brown said. The cake he picked up, he said, had a homophobic slur on it.
Whole Foods fired back almost immediately, releasing surveillance footage of Brown purchasing the cake -- evidence, the grocery chain said, showed that Brown was lying. The company filed a counter suit against Brown.
So how did the slur get on the cake? Who wrote you know what in semi-matching icing?
Further down in the story, a statement from Whole Foods finally states the obvious:
“Given Mr. Brown’s apology and public admission that his story was a complete fabrication, we see no reason to move forward with our counter suit to defend the integrity of our brand and team members,” Whole Foods’ statement said. The company’s counter suit had sought at least $100,000 in damages from Brown.
Brown, an openly gay pastor at the Church of Open Doors, which met regularly at the AMLI South Shore apartment complex on East Riverside Drive, issued several apologies with his statement announcing the end of his lawsuit.
“I want to apologize to Whole Foods and its team members for questioning the company’s commitment to its values,” Brown wrote in his statement.
So what Brown did was question the company's commitment to its values? Really?
In this case, the New York Times coverage, it seems, was much more direct and too the point:
The case of the chocolate cake slur, it seems, was simply a hoax.
An openly gay Texas pastor who had accused Whole Foods of defacing his cake with an anti-gay slur dropped his lawsuit against the grocery chain on Monday, issuing an apology that said he was wrong to “perpetuate this story.”
“The company did nothing wrong,” the pastor, Jordan Brown, said in a statement. “I was wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story.” He also apologized to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community “for diverting attention from real issues.”
I read quite a bit about this case and, I must confess, I was struck by the fact that people online were asking more detailed questions about the facts of the case, and the cake, than most of the reporters who were assigned to cover it.
A hint of that made it into the Times report. I, for one, want to know more about the "expert" referenced here? Perhaps this was one of the pastry pros who were taking part in the online chatter about the case?
The case of the anti-gay cake slur had captivated the Texas capital, where Whole Foods is based, as thousands of people debated the evidence on social media and in comment threads on The Austin-American Statesman.
The credibility of Mr. Brown’s story took a beating as armchair detectives, including at least one icing expert, raised doubts about his timeline and the plausibility of his claim that he had failed to notice the offending word through the cake’s clear-topped box while in the store.
File that one away, folks. We live in an age in which journalists do not need to explain the details of testimony from an "icing expert."
The final paragraph of the Times story referenced the much-avoided religion angle of this story -- the status of Brown's mysterious independent church:
In his statement, Mr. Brown also apologized to the bakery associate who came under scrutiny, his partner, his lawyer and the Church of Open Doors, where he is the pastor.
"Is" the pastor? In present tense? Am I the only person who, at this point, remains interested in the degree to which this congregation is alive and well? To what degree did it exist in the first place, other than in social media?
If you visit the congregation's website (its Facebook page appears to have been taken down or moved to secret status, while a Twitter feed has gone quiet), there has been no announcement of a service since before April 3. Is that a story?
As I said at the beginning, in some ways the story of Brown and his tiny flock is a perfect example of how hard it is for journalists to cover the totally independent churches that are springing up in America and around the world. So was there a connection, in terms of motive, between Brown's #hatecake campaign and the status of his attempts to build a church? Should reporters continue to try to cover this mysterious church?
At least one other journalist is, it seems, curious about this angle. Here is a chunk of a column by Mitch "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" Albom of The Detroit Free Press. He is asking some of the same questions I am.
For starters, Brown made his apology:
... through a statement, not a news conference like the one he called to shed false tears. What was his motivation? Money? That’s shameless. Attention? That’s sad. Building support for the gay community by inventing discrimination against it? That’s sick.
I would add one additional question: Trying to gain publicity to kick-start his personal church project?
Brown set back every future case of intolerance, allowing critics to ask whether it’s real or fabricated. We’d do well to not jump the gun going forward, instead doing what Whole Foods did: investigate, get the facts, then let them speak for themselves. Whole Foods, admiringly, dropped a countersuit against Brown, essentially declaring the matter over.
Meanwhile, Brown should do more than apologize to his small church. He should resign from it. If he was willing to let his phony accusation cost someone a job, his contrition ought to cost him his. Besides, who on Earth would listen to a pastor who claimed “Love wins” while trying so hard to defeat it?
The #hatecake story may be over. Unless, of course, there are reporters in Austin or elsewhere who are interested in the religion ghost in, ironically, a news story about a pastor and his alleged flock.
IMAGES: The first image, and the insert in the main text, are screenshots from the Church of Open Doors website.