by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
How do you treat a self-made business mogul who dares to question the benefits of the president’s signature legislative initiative? The latest Fortune magazine offers an answer in telling the story of “Papa” John Schnatter.
On Nov. 7, the day after the presidential election, Schnatter was in Naples, Fla., where he and his wife have a vacation home. A friend asked him to speak to students at a local college. Schnatter agreed. After a bunch of questions about his career, a student asked about Obamacare. Schnatter knew it was a sensitive topic. He proceeded gingerly.
“The good news,” he said, “is 100% of the population is going to get health insurance. I’m cool with that. We’re all going to pay for it. There’s nothing for free. And this way I get to provide health insurance, [and] I’m not at a competitive disadvantage because I offered [it] to our employees and the other guy didn’t.”
Schnatter thought he was done when a Naples Daily News reporter asked if his business would cut employee hours to keep workers part-time to avoid having to spend money on their insurance. Schnatter deflected the question. But the reporter persisted, asking if franchise owners would reduce workers’ hours below full-time. “It’s common sense,” Schnatter responded. “It’s what I call lose-lose.”
That was it. The words were hardly revelatory, and the article that revealed the statement was accurate. But the headline left the misimpression that Papa John’s planned to cut employees’ hours, not that franchises — which Schnatter does not control — might do so.
That misimpression quickly hardened into a mistake in cyberspace. Two days later the Huffington Post published an article with this headline: PAPA JOHN’S CEO JOHN SCHATTER SAYS COMPANY WILL REDUCE WORKERS’ HOURS IN RESPONSE TO OBAMACARE.
The liberal blogosphere went wild. The vengeful Republican CEO, the meme went, was punishing his employees to fulfill his own prophecy that an Obama victory would hurt workers. Schnatter’s comments about Obamacare costing 11¢ to 14¢ a pizza were spun back in an endless loop, along with clips from the fundraiser. Back home with his wife, Schnatter strained to recall saying he planned to cut worker hours. “I didn’t say that,” he said. As the story snowballed over the next days, he became increasingly agitated and angry. He wanted to respond aggressively and issue a press release correcting the misinformation. But his senior executives advised caution. For days the company remained silent.
By Tuesday the story had completely exploded. Everyone, it seemed, was reporting on Schnatter’s campaign against Obamacare. What upset him most were the claims that he was ripping off his workers so that he could live large in his mansion, a virtual castle, which MSNBC’s Ed Schultz reported had a 22-car garage.
Lies, insults, and innuendo rather than reasonable arguments? What a novel concept.