WaPo Slams Herman Cain As a Store-Closing, 'Tough-Talking Thug'

October 19th, 2011 8:30 AM

Beware when The Washington Post lets a food writer pen an "Essay" on the presidential campaign. Online, Tim Carman’s Wednesday article was headlined "Presidential candidate Herman Cain and his Godfather’s Pizza: Both full of empty calories?"

Carman clearly loathes Cain when he dismisses his business acumen by suggesting death was involved. "One of his primary credentials for the job involves his nearly miraculous healing of the once-moribund Godfather’s Pizza, 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."

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?

Carman’s "qualification" for this "Essay" is his teenaged love for Godfather’s pizza growing up in Nebraska. Now, as the pizza CEO runs for president, he wants to flee:

One of the closest locations to the District is nearly 100 miles away in New Market, Va., a town perhaps most famous for its annual reenactment of an 1864 Civil War battle in which the Confederate Army and cadets from the Virginia Military Institute expelled Union soldiers from the Shenandoah Valley. When I saw my first Godfather’s Pizza outlet in more than 20 years, I felt a similar urge to flee the scene.

The Godfather’s in New Market is not a free-standing restaurant or even one of those generic storefronts in a suburban strip mall, which is what I recall from my youth in western Omaha. This Godfather’s is tucked into the bowels of a Liberty gas station and convenience store, down a hallway with bathroom doors on the left, a cooler on the right and stacks of beer and soft drinks piled everywhere. This is your one-stop shop for Virginia lottery tickets, plastic gas cans, candy, toiletries, cigs, stuffed animals, chewing tobacco, condoms, batteries, playing cards, a sixer and a slice of Godfather’s Pizza.

Now, all grown up and writing articles about fine food, he discovers the gas-station pizzas are not "pies of no great distinction" – sort of like the candidate. "The urge to draw parallels between pie and presidential candidate is strong. But it’s a fool’s errand," Carman wrote. But that’s exactly what the Post wanted to print.

Years after Wolfgang Puck unleashed gourmet pizzas on Los Angeles and was plotting his own world domination, Herman Cain was fighting to keep an outdated pie concept alive. His savvy may prove he’s a good businessman, but his inability to look beyond the standard-issue chain-pizza trend proves something — a lack of imagination, at the very least. And now the pizza-chain market is dying, losing ground to burgers and chicken on the list of the nation’s top "quick-service" brands.

It’s even dying among some of my fellow Nebraskans, who grew up with Godfather’s and, I presumed, might be predisposed to it. When I polled a few friends, I got back an earful of gastronomical — and possibly political — comments, such as this note from Dan Moser, my first college editor in Nebraska: "I don’t think any of us will eat it again."

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.