Fox's “straight news” anchor gets lost in the sauce during interview with Papa John’s founder

Fox's "straight news" anchor Shannon Bream gets lost in the sauce during interview with Papa John’s founder

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.

Video file

Citation From the October 29, 2019, edition of Fox News' Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream

SHANNON BREAM (ANCHOR): Former CEO of Papa John's stepped down after using the N-word on a conference call, which was set up as a role-playing exercise for avoiding PR problems, like using racially charged language. John Schnatter apologized for using the N-words [and] said he was actually decrying racism but also said regardless of the context, racial language has no place in our society. Well, two weeks ago, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo also used the N-word on a radio show. One lawmaker said he owed the Black community and apology for this.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: They're saying southern Italian Sicilians -- I'm half-Sicilian -- were called quote-unquote -- and pardon my language but I'm just quoting the Times -- (BLEEP) wops. N-word wops, as a derogatory comment.


BREAM: Well, there were multiple things there some people found offensive. We're joined now by former Papa John's CEO John Schnatter. Great to have you with us.

JOHN SCHNATTER: Thank you, Shannon.

BREAM: OK, so I've been reading a little bit more, digging into this incident because we know how it initially was portrayed. Do you feel like you've had a chance to fully explain yourself?

SCHNATTER: Yes and no. As of late, for sure I would be able to, you know, kind of explain exactly what happened. It was a positive call. A very productive call. I adamantly expressed my disdain for racism. And unfortunately, they painted a false narrative, turned it on its head, and they attacked me, hurt me, which hurt the franchisees and hurt Papa John's.

BREAM: So, you do admit you used the word, but were you trying to use it in the sense that you were trying to display to people what not to do?

SCHNATTER: Absolutely. The word was used to say, “Do not say the word.” And I was very adamant about that. And the tape was 55-minutes long and it was extremely anti-racist. There was nothing in there that was any way racial at all.

BREAM: OK, so what do you make of you know, Gov. Cuomo using words that were -- more than, you know, one phrase in there that people were offended by. He said that this was about quoting someone else in the New York Post on October 20 when this first happened. He blamed the press for his N-word scandal. The governor instead blamed the New York Times for writing the article he was quoting from, suggesting the paper was also to blame for his decision Tuesday to say the word doing a live radio interview. Do you think that there are different standards for who can get away with this and who can't?

SCHNATTER: There was a double standard in this case. He definitely got a hall pass. But you got to remember the context. The context which he said it was explained. The thing that Papa John's didn't do is explain the context of which I said it. There was the misunderstanding and that's what caused all the problems -- how Papa John's handled it.

BREAM: OK, so you've had a different role with the company the last -- since that played out, the company's gone through some difficult financial times. I know that you feel like you could make more of a contribution Do you think there's a place for you to come back into that decision-making role where you can be more of a director into what happens with the company?

SCHNATTER: Sitting on the board of directors, that's not a priority for me. What is a priority is fixing the business, getting these franchisees healthy again, getting employees back on their feet, and getting Papa John's back to its winning ways. To your point, we've fixed it twice before. This will be the third time that I've stepped down and things got worse, not good. And in '09, the stock was $6.40 and when I got off the ship at 2017, it was 88 bucks. A good run, but '16 earnings were 200 million, so we had a good ride and things since then have deteriorated. I think that's because we got away from our fundamental beliefs, our fundamental principles. And if you don't have principles, you don't have anything.

BREAM: Do you think there's room in society for people when they do make a mistake and something that is a word that is, you know, so hurtful and painful to people, that there can be redemption, that you can have forgiveness and start over?

SCHNATTER: Oh, sure. Sure. I think that is you have to have that. I mean, we're all going to make mistakes. Some are smaller, some are big. But you, I think the key to make a mistake is you own it. You take the hit, and you ask for forgiveness and you move on.

BREAM: The lesson for you here a year or so out?

SCHNATTER: The lesson is good judgment comes from bad judgment; and bad judgment comes from experience. And the lesson here through this experience is, this has solidified my fundamental beliefs in doing the right thing. When you have the right values and the right principles, you win, like we did for 34 years, and when you get off your principles and values, you don't do so well.

BREAM: Well, everyone in the studio is a fan of the sauce that Papa John's continues to serve with their pizzas. Good to see you and see where you've come over the past year. So, thanks for joining us.

SCHNATTER: Thank you.