“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
That’s a sarcastic comment sometimes heard in newsrooms when a news story, or an editorial, fizzles out after a little digging reveals the news tip doesn’t square with reality.
Sometimes those stories are spiked; other times, they take on a totally new direction.
But on occasion — if there is sloppy reporting or omission of pertinent facts or context — those stories sometimes march ahead into print, online or on the airwaves.
That came to mind this month when we read the reports that Chick-Fil-A, the fast-food giant, had cut off donations to two religious-based groups – the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that had been “criticized for being anti-LGBTQ.”
CNN published its story under the headline “Chick-Fil-A will no longer donate to anti LGBTQ organizations.” CBS News posted a story saying the shift came “as the fast-food chain looks to avoid the spotlight that came with its history of financing evangelical groups that opposed LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage.”
And, of course, once those major media reports emerged they were picked up and spread across the country in print and online.
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They left the impression that Chick-Fil-A, whose ownership also has a Christian-based philosophy, was turning its back on two evangelical groups and targeted them by cutting their financial support; and, for the Salvation Army, which was just starting its annual bell-ringing campaign, it once again raised the specter that the charity was anti-gay and unwelcoming to the LGBTQ community at its shelters.
But that is not the truth – those reports were a mix of half-truths that altogether painted a picture that was a big lie.
After reviewing a variety of news reports and a very good assessment by Snopes.com, a fact-checking website with a mission of combating misinformation, the truth comes closer to this:
One: The Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes were not “targeted.” Donations to those two groups were cut off, but they were just two of 80 charitable groups whose support was defunded by Chick-Fil-A as they restructured their donation philosophy for 2020 to “deepen its giving to a smaller number of organizations working exclusively in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger.” As part of that Chick-Fil-A is planning on donating $25,000 to a food bank in every community where the company opens a new restaurant. Nowhere in its announcement or in statements by company officials did they say that the changes were related to LGBT issues.
Two: There was little or no context to the size of the cuts. The Salvation Army will be losing a donation that in 2018 amounted to $115,000 from Chick-Fil-A. Forbes Magazine reported that in 2017 the Salvation Army, which operates worldwide, had revenues of $4.3 billion — so the Chick-Fil-A support is a drop in the bucket.
Three: While it is true that the Salvation Army’s religious philosophy is based on the traditional biblical vision of marriage as between one man and one woman, that view is not imposed on the people it helps or in its hiring practices. According to Salvation Army websites, it adheres to all relevant employment laws and provides for domestic partner benefits accordingly. It attempts to provide shelter to all who walk through their doors and its site says: “Too often, LGBTQ Americans experience unacceptable homophobia or transphobia when seeking shelter. The Salvation Army seeks to be a welcome, safe place for all men, women and children.”
The news reports on the Chick-Fil-A announcement forced the Salvation Army to issue a statement noting it serves “more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ community. In fact, we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ population. When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor is at risk. We urge the public to seek the truth before rushing to ill-informed judgment and greatly appreciate those partners and donors who ensure that anyone who needs our help feels safe and comfortable to come through our doors.”
That’s the rest of the story — one which doesn’t square with the initial news reports — but comes closer to the truth.
Keep this one in mind when you hear the ringing bells and see the red kettles as you do your holiday shopping. An extra buck in the bucket might help, too.