Roy Exum: When It’s Best To Hush

Monday, December 23, 2013 - by Roy Exum

Just before I went to the Cracker Barrel for my Sunday breakfast, I noticed a news story that said the Tennessee-based restaurant company had publicly announced it would pull “Duck Dynasty” items from its shelves. As I read about the hare-brained decision in disbelief, I couldn’t help but let out a hoot and soon raced to “my” store in Lookout Valley to see if it was true.

Earlier in the week the patriarch of popular TV show was booted off the air by the A&E network after he made some pretty opinionated statements in a magazine interview, including his strong feelings about homosexuality. The resulting firestorm has pitted “freedom of speech” against “political awareness” and only a fool would join either side of that squabble.

Sure enough, some moron at Cracker Barrel headquarters – surely not a man born in the South – promptly gulped down the bait. The poor guy obviously has no grasp of public sentiment and is blind to the barometer that dictates when it’s best to hush.  Far worse, the P.R. buffoon has apparently never been inside an actual Cracker Barrel Country Store; every one of them is crawling with real-life “Duck Commanders!”

“Hey! Where’s the Duck Dynasty stuff!” the devil in me yelped as I asked one of the gift managers and – poor thing -- she looked as though she had just swallowed a canary. “It on the wall around that corner,” she said with her lips pursed just so.

“Good, glad to know it’s still here. Ya’ll aren’t going to pull it to make some foolish political statement, are you?” I asked “Mrs. Canary,” who paused just a wink before she repeated very carefully, “It’s on the wall around that corner.”

Sure enough it was right where “Mrs. Canary” said but there were almost as many “40-percent off” signs as there was merchandise. Clearly the mood was to sell out of “Duck Dynasty” in a hurry and never order any more of it again. But what is totally mystifying is why Cracker Barrel executives decided to announce it rather than quietly allowing the trinkets to disappear. The statement read:

* * *

“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture. We continue to offer Duck Commander products in our stores. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation. We continually evaluate the products we offer and will continue to do so.”

* * *

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. The minute the news broke Cracker Barrel’s every-loyal clientele roared, to use a polite word. “Worried about offending gays? What about offending Christians??” was among the first responses and the management team suffered a severe beating. “Where’d they get their education? A Cracker-Jacks box?”

One of the servers and I laughed about it as I ate my breakfast and, if there was any boycott, as the news story hinted, I sure couldn’t tell. The mood was happy, people laughing and getting ready for Christmas. And, yes, there were real-life “Duck Commanders” all over the place. (The way you tell is by the number of guys who eat their entire meal with their hats on. At 11 a.m. yesterday there were nine.)

But what’s this? When I got back to my desk there was a rare Sunday statement from Cracker Barrel headquarters:

* * *

“Dear Cracker Barrel Customer:

“When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done.

“You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings.  You flat out told us we were wrong.

“We listened.

“Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.

“And, we apologize for offending you.

“We respect all individuals [sic] right to express their beliefs.  We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different [sic].

“We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.”

* * *

Thank goodness. The last thing we need is unnecessary angst, particularly at Christmas time.

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