THIS MEME IS A LIE: Redeeming Papa John's

Not true

John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John's, may be an asshole. But he's not the asshole you think he is.

He may make shitty pizza, he may have supported Romney, and he may or may not be generally opposed to Obamacare.

But he DID NOT SAY that he planned to lay anyone off, close any restaurants, or cut anyone's hours, in response to the Affordable Care Act. And as far as I can tell, he has not taken steps to do any of those things, either.

This whole circus - the memes, the boycott, the reverse-boycott, the hashtags, the punditry, the Jon Stewart rant - is the result of some borderline journalism on the part of the Naples Daily News, and some outright inaccurate journalism on the part of Huffington Post.

It’s not an example of a bad CEO - it’s an example of the destructive power of bad reporting. Let me break it down.

Here’s the original story from the Naples Daily News, by Jessica Lipscomb.

The crucial passage:

Schnatter said it was likely that some franchise owners would reduce employees' hours in order to avoid having to cover them. "That's probably what's going to happen," he said. "It's common sense. That's what I call lose-lose."

First, note that Schnatter is commenting on what his franchisees might do. He’s not saying he has plans to do anything of the sort.

But also, what is up with that quote? “It’s common sense.” Is he implying that it’s common sense to expect the worst of the franchisees? Or that it’s common sense on the part of the franchisees to cut workers’ hours? “That’s what I call lose-lose” is even more tantalizing. Who are the losing parties? The workers and their employers? Is he condoning or condemning the idea?

We may never know, because Lipscomb didn’t clarify it in her article. She just plunks down this ambiguous quote and leaves it there. It's not terrible reporting, but it's a little bit crappy reporting.

It was the HuffPo that did the real damage.

Here’s the story by Harry Bradford. Headline: Papa John's CEO John Schnatter Says Company Will Reduce Workers' Hours In Response To Obamacare.

The crucial bit:

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter said he plans on passing the costs of health care reform to his business onto his workers. Schnatter said he will likely reduce workers’ hours, as a result of President Obama's reelection, the Naples Daily News reports.<

The words “reduce workers’ hours”link to the Naples Daily News report, which of course says nothing of the kind. And did anyone care? No. Bradford’s version of the story was so delicious that no pundit anywhere seems to have bothered to notice that it wasn’t true. Not even ) which covers the coverage by saying that Schnatter “is vowing to reduce employee hours and wages.”

The HuffPo story does have a correction appended to it, relating to a false statement about Applebee’s, but no correction for completely misrepresenting what Schnatter said to the Naples paper. Elsewhere, the 'Po allowed Schnatter to publish a lengthy clarification of his remarks.Of course, this was seen as panicked backpeddling by an evil CEO righfully skewered by his own words. Gleeful schadenfreude all around.

Look, I don’t know that Schnatter isn’t an evil CEO. He may indeed have a heart as black as a burned crust. But he just flat out did not say what he’s being eviscerated for saying.

And, sadly, no one will ever give a shit.

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