Papa John’s pizza restaurant founder John Schnatter went on Fox News for a slice of what the network does best: a post-scandal interview to rehabilitate a disgraced conservative’s public image in 30 minutes or less.
In 2018, Schnatter was forced to resign as board chairman of Papa John’s after it was revealed that he used “the N-word” on a conference call with company executives. According to Forbes, the call “was designed as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter in an effort to prevent future public-relations snafus.” Schnatter had previously resigned from his position as CEO in December 2017 after criticizing some NFL players’ ongoing protests against police brutality, but he remains the largest shareholder in the company.
In the past few weeks, Schnatter has been cooking up a comeback -- and serving it up through Murdoch-owned outlets. In September, he gave multiple “exclusive” interviews to Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, and on October 29, he wrote an op-ed for the Murdoch-owned New York Post, criticizing Papa John’s current corporate leadership and expressing regret over his decision to leave. In the op-ed, Schnatter also complained that he was a victim of a false media narrative regarding the conference call.
Schnatter’s next stop on his apology tour was Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream. Anchor Shannon Bream failed to ask the former CEO, who donated to President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, about the support he’s received from online hate groups, allegations of sexual misconduct, and what has been described as a “toxic” work culture at the company under his leadership.
Instead, Bream helped Schnatter deliver fresh excuses for his use of the racial slur (which she referred to as “racially charged language”) and praised his former company’s pizza sauce. She also repeated Schnatter’s framing in the New York Post op-ed that his use of the infamous slur was somehow not that bad because New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had also used the word in an interview.
After the former CEO said the conversation in which he used the slur and was forced out of his company as a result was a “positive call” in which he “adamantly expressed” his “disdain for racism,” Bream followed up by framing a defense for his remarks, asking Schnatter if he was “trying to display to people what not to do.” She also set him up to push for a new job at his old company and asked if he feels “there's room in society for people when they do make a mistake.”
Fox News opinion hosts are pros at helping disgraced conservative figures redeem themselves, as Sean Hannity has done for Roy Moore, Roseanne Barr, and Donald Trump Jr., or as Tucker Carlson recently did for Megyn Kelly. Bream’s segment only further disproves her claim that real journalism is “alive and well” at Fox -- in reality, the best the network’s “straight news” division has to offer is free PR for the racist pizza guy.