In an Oct. 19 NewsBusters post, Tim Graham took issue with Washington Post writer Tim Carman's critique of Herman Cain based on his experience eating Godfather's Pizza. After noting that Carman wrote that Cain was campaigning "as if America were a midgrade Midwestern chain whose many problems could be solved with a few deaths in the family (read: store closings) and a tough-talking thug in a pin-stripe suit and fedora," Graham huffed: "Can’t a Post editor see that it might be impolite to equate closing unprofitable stores with Mob assassinations? Would they tolerate Barack Obama in the role of 'gangsta,' just let that be published?"
But Carman was doing no such thing; he was referring to Godfather's longtime mascot. Carman even said so later in his article, noting that Cain "brought back the original godfather character from the chain’s early years in the 1970s — a rubbery-mouthed Mafioso who loved to claim that Godfather’s was a 'pizza you can’t refuse.'" (You can see the original actor in the role in this vintage TV ad.)
Carman was also referring to the fact that "Cain’s primary weapon for reviving the brand was marketing" rather than any dramatic sort of innovation, as well as "Cain’s decision to downsize the chain’s ambitions" by locating outlets in "gas stations, convenience stores and the like."
Even Cain's campaign felt compelled to respond to Graham's misrepresentation. Graham added an update that acknowledged his error but still tried to salvage it anyway:
UPDATE: MRC's Matthew Balan notified me that former Cain communications director Ellen Carmichael thought my inference that the Post was referring to Cain as a tough-talking thug was wrong. She wrote on Twitter: "I love the MRC, but this piece is wrong. The pin-stripe suit & fedora 'tough-talking thug' is mascot of Godfather's."
It's certainly true that a reader might think the Post is referring to a Godfather's mascot...but does a mascot solve the chain's problems and execute store closings? I think the sentence is meant at least in part to tweak Cain as an "economic hit man," not refer solely to the mascot (and the mascot comes in later). But Tim Carman's phrase was the chain's "problems could be solved with a few deaths in the family (read: store closings) and a tough-talking thug in a pin-stripe suit and fedora." I'd say the Post should have more sensitivity toward a black Republican -- at least as much as they would have for Obama.
Graham also took an anti-elitist swipe at Carman, mocking him as "all grown up and writing articles about fine food" for his dismissal of Godfather's as "pies of no great distinction." Graham offers no opinion of his own on the taste of Godfather's -- he gives no indication he has ever tried it -- nor did he note a blind taste test conducted by Politico involving Democratic and Republican consultants as well as a local "foodie," in which Godfather's was universally panned.
P.S. As a Nebraska native like Carman -- my hometown is the home of the first Godfather's outside of Omaha -- who happened to eat at Godfather's on a recent trip back to the state, we can second Carman's analysis. The pizza I had was adequate but undistinguished, and eating there felt like a nostalgia trip. Even Godfather's founder, Willy Thiesen, has moved on to an upgraded experience: He now operates a restaurant that makes pizza in a coal-fired oven and offers wine paired with each pie.
Maybe today's Godfather's (and Graham) could take a little advice from its founder: "You've got to reinvent yourself. If you keep doing the same things you were doing, we've always heard, you get the same results. You've got to change yourself. Reinvent."