A visit from classic MZ: Concerning 2017's sort-of news about anti-Starbucks evangelicals

A visit from classic MZ: Concerning 2017's sort-of news about anti-Starbucks evangelicals

It's that time of year, again. I know that I keep saying that, but there's no way around it.

It's time for the annual alleged cursing of the Starbucks Holiday cup design.

Once again, several major branches of elite media -- including the all-important New York Times -- are dancing with delight to know that some knuckle-dragging evangelicals are upset with some element of this iconic symbol in the lives of urban consumers of over-priced coffee.

This year, we are talking about a culture wars topic, as well as a new round in the Christmas Wars. Now, in the following Times passage, pay close attention to the sourcing on information about this alleged evangelical cyber-lynch mob. I will then turn things over to M.Z. "GetReligionista Emerita" Hemingway for her Federalist critique of this mess.

The latest controversy has focused ... on a pair of gender-neutral hands holding each other on the side of the cup itself.

Those linked hands came to wider public attention after BuzzFeed published an article about them on Wednesday. It suggested the cup was “totally gay.”
“While people who follow both Starbucks holiday cup news and L.G.B.T. issues celebrated the video, the ordinary Starbucks customer probably didn’t realize the cup might have a gay agenda,” BuzzFeed said.

Thus saith BuzzFeed. Then:

After that, it was off to the races.
Fox News picked up the story of what it called the “androgynous” cartoon hands, referring to Bible-quoting critics of Starbucks and criticizing BuzzFeed, which it said had “asserted the hypothesis is fact.”

Thus saith Fox News, one of our culture's most popular arenas for all things Christmas Wars.

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#WarOnChristmas: RNS, other media jump on (nonexistent) controversy over Starbucks cups

#WarOnChristmas: RNS, other media jump on (nonexistent) controversy over Starbucks cups

Yes, Virginia, Religion News Service wrote a snarky "news" item quoting three anonymous Twitter users.

The subject of the report: The alleged controversy over holiday cups at Starbucks.

The wire service's lede:

(RNS) Yes, Virginia, there are people brandishing pitchforks because the new Starbucks cup is green and doesn’t have a snowflake.
On Tuesday (Nov. 1), the much-loved and much-derided coffee chain rolled out a cup with a white circle on a green background covered with an army of little cartoon faces drawn with a single line by artist Shogo Ota.
For some customers, this was the first salvo in what they see as the company’s annual “War on Christmas.”
“Starbucks is trying to take Jesus out of Christmas with the new cup,” someone named Jazmine H wrote on Twitter.

Wowza! If Jazmine H is upset, this must be a legitimate national news story!

And there are even reports that Starbucks has unveiled new Satanic holiday cups.

Oh, wait. That report is from the Babylon Bee, the fake religion news website. My bad.

Back to the Starbucks cup brouhaha: As the late, great Yogi Berra said, "It's deja vu all over again!"

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War on Christmas: Is it actually taking place at shopping malls and churches?

War on Christmas: Is it actually taking place at shopping malls and churches?

So why was that whole Starbucks red cup winter blend outrage thing considered a major news event in the first place?

Yes, you had a former evangelical pastor serving up a click-bait selfie video that let to YouTube after YouTube after YouTube and snarky story after story after story. I thought that this Washington Post something-or-another took the prize for capturing the tone of the media product being served up.

But about that wave of outrage. You know, folks who know something about evangelicalism and its leaders had to stop and ask: Precisely who is Joshua Feuerstein and how in the world did this unknown guy end up getting waves of media coverage?

As you would expect, the Starbucks wars were the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, but host Todd Wilken and I did everything we could to try to find some actual news hooks linked to this fiasco. Click here to tune that in.

For starters, all of this was supposed to have something to do with (a) lots of Christians being upset (although there was next to zero evidence that this was true) and (b) the Christian season of Christmas, which begins on Dec. 25 and continues for the following 12 days.

No, honest. Stop laughing. You can look it (but don't ask Siri).

Then there was this other Washington Post red-cup piece that -- along with the Stephen Colbert piece at the top of this post -- kind of pointed toward the topic that dominated the Crossroads taping.

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This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

It's the question that drives editors crazy in this age of click-bait media: Why do some stories go viral, while others do not?

How about viral news stories in which there is little or no evidence that there is actually a story to be reported in the first place?

I'm talking, of course, about the spew your liquid caffeine on your keyboard levels of media attention dedicated to the Starbucks hates Christmas story that broke out this week, after the usual craziness in social-media land. See the post by our own James Davis with the pun-tastic headline, "Red Cup Diaries: Mainstream media cover Starbucks' Christmas brew-haha." Apparently, there is some kind of pay-cable reference in that naughty headline, too, but that went over my head.

On Facebook, I offered this mini-rant:

Is it acceptable for me to be very upset that millions of Xians think that it's already Christmas and we haven't even started Nativity Lent yet? I mean, who runs their churches, the god of the local mall?

The graphic at the top of this post, passed along by the edgy and hilarious graphic novelist Doug TenNapel, says it all.

At least, I thought it said it all, until M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway, now with The Federalist, went old-school GetReligion on this mess in a piece that ran under this headline: "Nobody Is Actually Upset About The Starbucks Cup. Stop Saying Otherwise." MZ did her thing, but then turned this piece into some completely different -- making it must reading for journalists facing the challenge of finding valid pre-Christmas stories to cover this year (and every year, come to think of it). Her piece opened with this summary:

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Red Cup Diaries: Mainstream media cover Starbucks' Christmas brew-haha

Red Cup Diaries: Mainstream media cover Starbucks' Christmas brew-haha

So this Christian guy online aims a camera at his face and says that coffee cups show Starbucks "hates Jesus."

Can you say click-bait? There go those religious crazies again. Just the kind of story that mainstream media like to pounce on, eh?

Except, to my surprise, most didn’t this time. Instead, they just covered it, pro and con, and looked for facts.

Our story starts with Joshua Feuerstein, a former evangelical pastor based in Arizona. Feuerstein saw Starbucks' new cups for the Christmas season -- plain red with the company's green mermaid trademark -- and freaked.

"Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand-new cups?" the fast-talking minister says in a video.  He boasted that he entered one of their coffee shops and told a barista his name was "Merry Christmas," forcing the worker to write the phrase on his cup.

He chortles:

So guess, what, Starbucks? I tricked you into putting "Merry Christmas" on your cup. And I'm challenging all great Americans and Christians around this great nation: Go into Starbucks and take your own coffee selfie. And then I challenge you to not only share this video so that the word gets out, but let's start start a movement, and let's call it, I dunno, "#MerryChristmasStarbucks," and I know that by sharing this video, and getting other Christians to do it, well …

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Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

You can take M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion (although I am still struggling to get used to that), but it does appear that you can't take those GetReligion instincts out of Mollie the journalism critic.

Consider for a moment what is actually going on in this recent short written by the GetReligionista emeritus over at The Federalist. It focuses on that whole Starbucks (with help, believe it or not from USA Today) #RaceTogether campaign that has been getting so much mainstream news ink and commentary lately. Here's the headline on her piece: "With Race Together, Starbucks Is Using Worst Of Evangelical Practices."

Evangelicals? Wait for it.

Now, lots of that commentary has been either nervous or critical or both. Is it really a good idea for a major corporation to try to push its customers -- people who just trying to mind their own business while buying a cup of overpriced coffee -- into a hot-button conversation that may or may not be constructive in the long run?

Still, Starbucks is one of those urban prestige brands that must be taken seriously buy the press. Right? Mollie's insight, if you read between the lines, was to ponder what kind of press reception this campaign would have received if attempted by another institution on another hot-button topic. What kind of reception would, let's say Hobby Lobby, have received with a #TalkMarriage campaign or even a safer #TalkParenting effort?

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