Papa John: That whole n-word thing came from an extortion attempt

I swear, you guys, this is the last article about the Papa John Schnatter n-word career implosion. I know I said that last time when he blamed the n-word comments on that PR firm, Laundry Service, but this time I really mean it. (Unless, of course, he says something else later this week.) Yes… the story has taken another twist.

To review, the gaffe was originally just a role-playing exercise gone wrong, ironically intended to train the staff so they could avoid future PR disasters. Then Schnatter said that he didn’t even want to say it, but he was pressured into doing so by Laundry Service. Now the former chairman is claiming that Laundry Service was attempting to extort six million dollars from him to keep them from releasing the recording of the call to the media. (NY Post)

The pizza mogul who was accused of using racial slurs during an internal conference call with a marketing firm in May is now accusing that firm — Los Angeles-based Laundry Service — of trying to extort $6 million from the Louisville, Ky., chain to keep quiet about the call.

“They wanted $6 million to make it go away,” Schnatter told a local CBS affiliate.

“‘If I don’t get my f–king money, I’m going to bury the founder,’ said one of the executives,” Schnatter told WLKY. “I’m not for sale,” Schnatter continued. “We held firm and they ran to Forbes, which printed it.”

By now I’ve reached the point of deciding that we’re watching one of two possible storylines playing out here. The first possibility is that Schnatter has totally lost his marbles and is dreaming up fever swamp stories to feed to the media, believing it will somehow clear his name and return him to power. The second option – and I’m really asking you to bear with me here – is… what if he’s telling the truth?

I’ll give you a moment to swallow several hundred extra-large grains of salt and then proceed. Is it even possible? A relatively small marketing firm lands a deal with Papa John’s, privately pushes him to use a racial epithet as part of a roleplaying exercise, records the call and then threatens to leak the recording if he doesn’t pay up? If they were in enough trouble financially might they have thought that Schnatter would be more likely to just pay up than risk the hassle of this type of exposure. Well… if we were talking about some sort of mystery novel plot I suppose so.

But in order to believe this, we’d have to assume that Forbes wouldn’t have run down that story (or at least mentioned it) before printing the bombshell article. Unless Schnatter didn’t tell them about it when they called to ask for a comment. But if Papa John was facing such a damning expose and knew he wasn’t going to make the payment, why wouldn’t he immediately have gone public? He could have had the police launching an investigation into the firm on extremely serious charges.

Of course, the other option is that the extortion wasn’t a planned scheme but rather a crime of opportunity. Maybe they pushed Schnatter to say it as a legitimate exercise. Or maybe he said it on his own and they were just so gobsmacked that they didn’t know how to respond. And then, two weeks later, one or two people at their office suddenly cook up the blackmail scheme? Nope… that still sounds like a movie script, not the real world.

None of this makes any sense. And if Laundry Service didn’t try an extortion scheme, Schnatter could be in trouble himself for defamation. Unless this is somehow the most unlikely true story in living memory, Papa John should probably go to ground, keep his mouth shut and let his attorney do the talking for a while. But in the meantime, Papa John has some regrets. (From Deadspin)