In Defence Of Papa John’s And John Schnatter

I get really, really annoyed at the Chinese whispers of the so-called ‘progressive’ internet sometimes.

You’ve probably seen a huge number of shared image macros calling for a boycott of Papa John’s Pizza, because they’re cutting people’s hours so they don’t have to pay health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Awful, right? You probably shared one of the pictures yourself.

And it’s definitely true, because it clearly says so on MSN — “The pizza mogul announces he will reduce worker hours in light of Obama’s re-election”.

Except that their source is the Huffington Post, which only says “he will likely reduce workers’ hours”, not that he’s announced he’s going to.

Except that *THEIR* source is this story from Schnatter’s local newspaper, where he talks about what he perceives as good and bad points of the law, before saying that “it was likely that some franchise owners would reduce employees’ hours”

Papa John’s is a franchise chain, which means that in different areas of the US the restaurants are owned by separate businesses, which just buy the license from the central company. All Schnatter has actually said is that *some of those separate businesses, which he does not control* *MIGHT* cut hours, not that he is going to do anything at all.

I disagree with Schnatter about the Affordable Care Act, but it seems all he’s actually done is commit the terrible crime of having a nuanced position — saying it’s good that everyone will be covered, but that he could imagine some people, other people, cutting employees’ hours as a result — in an age when nuance is deadly.

But then, I don’t know why I’m bothering to write this — these words aren’t overlayed on a photograph, and they’re all correctly spelled, so no-one will read it…

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14 Responses to In Defence Of Papa John’s And John Schnatter

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    I dare you to propagate this as a “meme” by superimposing ALL the words over a picture of a kitten. It would be a hit.

  2. xianrex says:

    “Chinese” whispers?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Just had a quick Google — apparently the UK is the only country that uses the term. It’s British English for what you call Telephone (the game where you whisper something to someone, who whispers it to someone else, and so on).

  3. Dane says:

    I suppose it’s nuanced in the sense that he’s saying to people Obamacare will result in your pizzas costing more and people losing jobs. So, don’t re-elect Obama. It’s the same as a bunch of other business owners (ASG, Georgia Pacific) have done – pressure your employees to vote your way using their jobs as hostage. This sort of threat (closing a business) is illegal in the face of possible unionization, but mostly quite legal with respect to voting. Certainly any legislation has costs and benefits. I find this kind of, I guess “nuanced”, threat to be vile though, rather than something to praise.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Please read what I actually said. He said — *after* the election, not before, that *other people*, not him, might conceivably do this. I can’t see how what he actually said — rather than what someone else said that someone else said that he said — can be interpreted as a threat.

      • Dane says:

        My point, perhaps poorly made, is that he made plenty of comments before the election that are typical of conservative business owners, which are clearly threats. Any later comments must be seen in this light, suggesting they are not nuanced but rather a continuation of the same theme. Granted, it is a franchise situation and I’m not sure what that contract looks like, and what he can still dictate to franchisees. But this seems to me like someone writing that “if the US continues in this vein, someone is going to shoot the man in charge.” It’s not a direct threat, but you know where it’s coming from.

        From August 9: “We’re not supportive of Obamacare, like most businesses in our industry,” Schnatter said on a conference call with shareholders last week, as reported by Politico. “If Obamacare is in fact not repealed, we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders’ best interests.”

        • prankster36 says:

          Dane’s correct–there’s a definite history of USian business owners making threats about how, gosh darn it, those pesky Democrats have instituted policies that will force them to raise prices or tank the stock market or whatever, whenever they don’t get their way. Hell, when seatbelt laws were introduced in the 60s there was much crowing about how this was going to destroy the auto industry.

          As Dane mentioned, a disturbing number of US corporations sent out emails this election cycle talking about how they hoped their employees would support Romney and making “We might have to cut back if Obama wins”-type comments. Of course they never flat out say they’re going to fire people, but at least some of them are undeniably making veiled threats, and doing so about a president who’s undeniably managed the economy better than his Republican predecessor, in support of a vulture capitalist.

          Schnatter’s comments have to be understood in this context. And yes, he was making them well before the election, as well, including an absurd declaration that the price of his pizza was going to go up if Obamacare wasn’t repealed.

          • If I recall, an addition of 10 to 15 cents per pizza is much less than the seasonal fluctuation in price for milk, cheese, tomatoes, wheat, etc. If their profit margin is so thin that this is going to drive them out of business, well, too bad so sad, you know? A business in that condition is already on the ropes, and isn’t going to survive another bad summer, but there’s been no indication that Papa John’s in in those dire of straits.

            I can’t fault a businessman for wanting to make money, but it seems a better way to handle it from a PR perspective would be to say: “Papa John’s cares about its employees. So yes, we’re raising the price 50 per pie, but isn’t that a small price to pay to know that our drivers are safe in case of (God forbid) an accident, our cook’s children can go to the hospital, and that no one here has to worry if they get sick?” Boom, two birds, one stone. Immune from criticism because, hey, caring about your employees is popular, and the price increase actually ups your profit margin above the 15 cents needed. For a counterpoint, a friend of mine’s father was a driver for Wegman’s, a grocery store chain that regularly makes the top 3 “Best Companies to Work For” lists. When he was killed in a truck crash driving for the company a couple years ago, the President called up my friend personally to see if there was anything he could do to help him and his family, and made sure that he and his brother were set up for college, wouldn’t lose their house, etc. Danny Wegman didn’t have to do this, but he did, and damned if everyone I know doesn’t shop there. An oddly, no one I tell this story to from the area is surprised. The company has that good a reputation for taking care of its people. Great PR, and I’m positive that Wegman, the multimillionaire 3rd generation owner of a hugely successful company, didn’t feel it at all. He might have had to forgo adding solid diamond rims to one of his many yachts for a month, but you know, in the grand scheme of things…

            I don’t love Matthew Yglesias, but his posting on this subject back in August makes me question how nuanced the position Schnatter holds really is, and if he’s just scrambling to cover himself now that no repeal is coming:


  4. lucidfrenzy says:

    Imagine someone else saying, for example, that welfare cuts in Britain will drive some people to such a state of desperation that they will start committing crimes. Which there’s no doubt in my mind they will do. But if someone said that in a public debate there’d be some melange of some people claiming benefit claimants were being labelled as criminals, and others insisting this proves they really were criminals.

    Yet Schnatter is saying something exactly like that, merely the opposite way up. He’s effectively saying “if those interfering Feds try to force me to be nice to you my workers, then I will respond by being nastier to them. Which of course will be their fault.”

    Remarks such as these are ‘dog whistles.’ It’s no use looking at them as logical arguments or contributions to some rational debate. They’re not nuanced, they’re disguised. They’re there to induce fear and panic.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I agree — though I don’t know enough about the larger context of Schnatter’s remarks to be sure that’s his intent. It certainly could be, though, and I agree with the general point.

      But in your example, if, say, Ed Miliband said that benefit cuts will lead to an increase in crime, and then it was reported as “Labour think benefits claimants are criminals and want to lock them up”, I’d post something very similar. Schantter (or Miliband) may well be a horrible man, but he’s not done the particular horrible thing he’s being accused of.

      • lucidfrenzy says:

        And well you might. But I don’t think that would be the general response. And I don’t think Miliband would be saying anything similar for that very reason. I read your good blog more often than I read the Daily Mail. But for most folks it’s the reverse. If we start imagining the playing field is level, we’re forgetting some very basic stuff.

        (Of course if Labour were in power they’d most likely be making the same or very similar cuts. But that’s tangental to the main story, however.)

  5. Pingback: Papa Johns and the Insurance Dilemma | Ferrett Steinmetz

  6. Alleyne says:

    The thing is, Papa John’s corporate have had 48 hours to try to get ahead of this story, particularly on social media if the representations were substantially different from Schnatter’s intent. Applebee’s certainly is, they’re responding furiously on Twitter to make sure people know that similar comments regarding their restaurants came from the CEO of a franchise holder company, not their corporate office. Darden Restaurant group, however, is ignoring Twitter and telling people on Facebook to email them with concerns, responding with a canned message that doesn’t actually deny that workers will lose jobs or hours. Schnatter and Papa Johns are dead silent. He’s not on television, the company isn’t replying on Facebook and as best I can tell has no official presence on Twitter. There’s been no article by Schnatter himself on HuffPo, and they’d obviously print one.

    So however twisted the reports may be, Schnatter doesn’t seem to care. His silence speaks volumes.

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