A tiny Indiana pizza parlor somehow became the target of online fury this week after an ABC affiliate falsely accused the family-run business of refusing all service to members of the LGBT community — a curious episode that has raised questions about how reporters even knew of the obscure eatery.
Memories Pizza in Walkerton, In., which was launched nine years ago by Kevin O'Connor and his family, is located in a town with a population of only 2,144, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau.
By contrast, South Bend, In., where ABC-57 is based, has a population of 101,168, according to the same data set.
Further, Memories Pizza, which has closed its doors until further notice due to multiple online threats, is located 25 miles south of ABC-57's offices.
It's a 43-minute drive.
But the ABC-57 reporter who broke the story, Alyssa Marino, claimed Wednesday she "just walked into [the O'Connors'] shop and asked how they feel" about the state's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is modeled after the 1993 federal law of the same name.
"They've never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding," Marino said on Twitter. "I don't think anyone was really aware the attention this would get at the time of the interview. They just spoke their mind."
In fact, Marino had done a standup in front of the shop, indicating that Memories would be getting prominent placement (as it did in the final story, which focused almost entirely on the shop). It is also notable that a reporter from South Bend — the home of Notre Dame University, arguably America's most prominent Roman Catholic college — had to travel such a great distance just to find a business owner unwilling to cater to a gay wedding ceremony.
After interviewing the business owners, who identify as Christian, about whether they'd cater a same-sex wedding, ABC-57 published Marino's report late Tuesday evening.
Memories Pizza is the "first" business in the area "to publicly deny same-sex service," declared the original headline to her article.
However, Marino's own reporting contradicts the headline. "They said that if a gay couple or a couple belonging to another religion came in to the restaurant to eat, they would never deny them service," Marino writes further down in the story.
The O'Connors told ABC-57 they "just don't agree with gay marriages and wouldn't cater them if asked to."
Nevertheless, numerous news outlets glossed over this important distinction and instead accused the O'Connors of denying all service to gays and lesbians. Hundreds of voices joined in to brand the Indiana family as bigoted and "hateful." As of Thursday the claim that Memories will not serve gays was still being widely circulated on social media and even some ancillary news coverage.
ABC-57, as well as a host of other online news outlets, later amended its headline to reflect that the O'Connors stated specifically that they'd decline to cater a wedding, not refuse all business to gays and lesbians.
But even after it became clear that the O'Connors had been vilified for something they didn't actually say, and even after several news groups had amended their headlines to more accurately reflect the beliefs of the shop owners, questions regarding the ABC-57's initial report remained.
How did ABC-57, which covers the entire Michiana area, including Walkerton, settle on Memories Pizza?
Following Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's signing of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is modeled after the 1993 federal law of the same name, the ABC affiliate said in an evening newscast that it set out to ask local businesses in the Michiana area what they think of the new bill.
The selection of an obscure shop in a tiny town strongly suggests ABC-57 was unable to locate — among hundreds of businesses in a city that is home to one of the most famous Catholic institutions in the United States — another business operator with an opinion on the state's new RFRA.
It is also unclear why ABC-57 went all that way just to inquire about hypothetical wedding catering by a pizzeria. (Pizza is not a dish commonly served at weddings – gay or straight.)
ABC-57 and Marino did not respond to the Washington Examiner's multiple requests for comment.