Speaking Ill of the Dead Apparently Okay if the Dead Worked for Chick-fil-A

We recently put out a podcast called “Legacy of a Jerk,” which deals in large part with the ancient injunction against speaking ill of the dead. For the most part, this injunction is still widely obeyed. So I was quite surprised to see what Mark Bittman recently wrote on his N.Y. Times blog:

Sysco is the latest food giant—it’s the largest food distributor in the country—to come out against gestation crate confinement of pigs. The National Pork Producers Council’s communications director was quoted in the National Journal saying: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.” Really.

Speaking of pigs, the VP of PR for Chick-fil-A dropped dead of a heart attack the week after the chain’s latest homophobia/anti-gay marriage scandal. Here’s an obit, and here’s more about him. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A had record-breaking profits after its President, Dan Cathy, drew a line in the sand over same-sex marriage.

I read that “speaking of pigs” line three or four times to make sure I understood. At first I thought that Bittman was speaking metaphorically — that no one had in fact died. (But he did: the man’s name was Don Perry.) Then I thought maybe the Times page had been hacked, but that doesn’t seem to be the case either. FWIW, here’s a screenshot:

Then I thought that, given our current state of political and social discourse, maybe I am naive for being surprised that even someone as reputable as Bittman would write something like this?

I wrote to Bittman to ask him about the item but I got one of those automated “Unfortunately-due-to-the-number-of-emails-I-receive-I can’t-respond-personally-to-everyone-who-writes-to-me” replies.

Addendum: Bittman walks it back.

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  1. BL1Y says:

    There are principles, and then there’s team loyalty. In this case, Bittman’s loyalty to the gay rights team trumped the principle of not speaking ill of the (recently) dead.

    This phenomenon is known as “cheat to win.”

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    • Dave says:

      … or “the ends justify the means.” (They don’t)

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    • Clancy says:

      I think Bittman’s probably more upset by the fact that Chick-fil-A is a fast food chain than about the marriage equality stuff.

      I’m generally a fan of his, but he does go off the rails now and then.

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  2. Dleigh says:

    Bittman is reputable? Surely you jest.

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  3. Ian M says:

    I remember when Pierre Trudeau died here in Canada. Dozens of people called in to radio stations just to jay, “I’m glad that SOB is dead” or such comments. It was a day of shame in my opinion.

    On a side note –
    “I wrote to Bittman to ask him about the item but I got one of those automated “Unfortunately-due-to-the-number-of-emails-I=receive-I can’t-respond-personally-to-everyone-who-writes-to-me” replies.

    Better than no reply at all?

    Thumbs up if you have ever had a non-response when writing to: dubnerlevitt@freakonomics.com

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  4. MrAtoZ says:

    Be glad you’re not part of the NY Times site any longer…

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  5. Joe says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Dave says:

      If spreading tolerance is now defined as celebrating the death of an employee of a company whose CEO’s values you disagree with, then the definition has changed since my mother taught me.

      I am sure that there are tons of opinions, even in an economics blog, about how the gay marriage issue should be resolved; on the other hand, just as it is wrong for ANYONE against gay marriage to celebrate the death of someone because they were gay, it is wrong for a someone who supports gay marriage to take joy in the death of someone on the other side. Bittman wasn’t directly saying that, but lots are. We should all be opposed to THOSE remarks

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    • Molly says:

      I love this. “I demand you tolerate me! I only tolerate opinions like mine! If you disagree with me, you are a homophobe/socially irresponsible/pig/and for sure intolerant!”

      So, I’m missing the “he’s spreading tolerance” part.

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      • JOe says:

        Your sarcasm detector is malfunctioning.

        Tolerance for me, but not for thee – it’s become the anthem of the anti Chick-fil-a movement.

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      • Travis says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Dave says:

        I agree that it is indefensible to suggest that tolerance to gays and tolerance to Christians regardless of their intolerance towards gays are totally separate issues. On the other hand, celebrating or mocking someone after their death shouldn’t be accepted by anyone. It is simply wrong.

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      • J1 says:

        Actually, tolerance does extend to respecting another person’s right to hold and express views you find abhorrent.

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      • Molly says:

        Thanks J1, that’s just what I was trying to express.

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      • Scott says:

        @J1: The actions of the Chick-fil-A execs seem to go pretty far beyond the sort of opposing views I’m willing to “tolerate”. According to the links in the blog post, for what that’s worth, the organizations receiving donations from this company include ones classified as hate groups for implying that gays and lesbians should be imprisoned.

        I’m sure we can all agree that ad hominem attacks from either side aren’t helping the debate. I absolutely respect anyone’s right to disagree with me and their right to express their opinions. But I’m not going to “tolerate” views that include the intent to harm to my friends and family if that means passively accepting them. And I would suggest that withholding equal rights from a segment of our population is a serious harm.

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      • Travis says:

        @J1, Molly

        It amazes me that this place, the freakonomics blog, could be so bereft of critical thought. Tolerance literally cant extend to tolerating other peoples advocacy of intolerance. Sorry, Molly, but that’s what you’re saying.

        Tolerance is accepting that Christians don’t accept gays and will not let them marry in their churches, for example. Tolerance is NOT accepting the advocacy by christian groups (and others, such as chick-fil-a) to impose their religious beliefs on the general public by way of legislative effort.

        You can tolerate the intolerant. But when the intolerant is advocating the denial of rights to the group they refuse to tolerate, tolerating such effort is actually being intolerant yourself.

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      • J1 says:

        Do you really believe tolerance doesn’t include acceptance of efforts to impose one’s opinions and beliefs via the democratic process? That’s the foundation of the democratic process. The proper response is to do the same thing yourself. You may not always like the results – I certainly don’t – but the alternative is a whole lot worse.

        Scott: My mind is open, questions about my ability to think critically notwithstanding; what hate groups has CFA given money to?

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      • Scott says:

        @J1: I’m not questioning your ability to think critically, and I’m not exactly sure why you got that from my post. I completely agree with what you just said. I fully support anyone’s right to express their beliefs and to therefore attempt to impose them on others. Just as I fully expect the other side to resist. Maybe the issue is just semantics. I wouldn’t describe either side in the above scenario as “tolerating” the other. To me, “tolerance” implies an acceptance of someone else’s point of view as equally valid (in the way that we tolerate other religions, for example), not an attempt to impose one’s own view through any means, legal or otherwise. I just hate the whole “you’re not tolerant because you don’t tolerate my intolerance” argument. It just spirals to nowhere.

        In any case, again this is according to the links in the blog post and I’m not claiming any expertise here, CFA donates to the Family Research Council, which was labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is the article that is linked to:


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      • J1 says:

        Sorry Scott – I wasn’t saying you called my critical reasoning skills into question; someone else did. And thanks for the link. I think the money quote is this one:

        “As (SPLC Research Director) Beirich told me, there is no difference between the FRC and the KKK in the eyes of the SPLC now”

        Frankly, that’s deranged. If the SPLC equates advocacy (speech) of any kind with cross burning and lynchings (actual physical harrassment and murder), they need a drug test. By their own standard, the SPLC is arguably a hate group itself.

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    • Jason says:

      J1 says that the FRC is not a hate group like the KKK. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the hate crimes committed against LGBTQ individuals, but they are real, even if not as widespread as racial hate crimes. The FRC, along with other factions of the American Religious Right, helped construct and advocate for the “Kill the Gay” Bill in Uganda. Does that mean anything to you or does it make me a hater to point out their crimes against humanity? Real people are under threat because of the HRC, this is not a difference of opinion but a group organizing murder. As for this former employee, I don’t know him so I won’t speak ill or praise for him. I fail to see how any critical thinker would promote “don’t speak ill of the dead.” Speak ill of the dead if it is true or praise the recently deceased if that is truly worth doing. To avoid speaking ill of the dead when warranted simply because of this foolish phrase is to follow a fallacy of tradition.

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  6. cjc says:

    How is Bittman “reputable” beyond speaking about food and cooking? Has he, in the past, given you confidence about his insight and sensitivity about politics, economics and law? Or are you just seeing his expertise in one field, and assuming that it carries over to some other unrelated field?

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  7. Daniel says:

    Personally I think that’s a little hypocritical to speak bad about someone, and when this someone dies, suddenly (s)he’s a good person and nothing wrong can be said.

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    • ed says:

      Your post is a non sequitur. No one “spoke bad” about the VP of PR before he died, but many took their shots after he did. That’s just plain cowardly.

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  8. Ryan says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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