A Controversy That Wasn't Really There?
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Americans are pretty sick and tired of the annual #BoycottStarbucks campaigns conservatives start every year around this time when their favorite target – Starbucks – reveals its new Holiday coffee cups. We all remember the insane attacks in 2015 from former pastor Joshua Feuerstein, who recorded a viral video literally saying Starbucks "hates Jesus" because the international coffee purveyor produced a solid red cup without Christmas decorations.
For better or worse that was a national controversy – and a national conversation – that went on for weeks.
"People Are Saying Starbucks’ New Holiday Cup Is Totally Gay" is an article Buzzfeed business reporter Venessa Wong wrote that was published one week ago Wednesday. It was odd because the only people she mentioned in her article were a woman on Twitter with 737 followers who tweeted about the cups two weeks before Wong published her piece. Wong also cited a man on Twitter with 66 followers, another man with 18 followers, another woman with 103 follows, and Wong's own "gay BuzzFeed colleague" as her sources.
Those are the people who were saying Starbucks' new Holiday cup is "totally gay," to quote Wong.
Less than an hour after Buzzfeed published their article Business Insider reported "BuzzFeed posted a bizarre theory that Starbucks' holiday cups 'might have a gay agenda'." Apparently the original Buzzfeed title, according to Business Insider, was: "Is Starbucks' New Holiday Cup Totally Gay?"
The theme of Wong's story is, "the ordinary Starbucks customer probably didn't realize the cup might have a gay agenda," but "some keen observers speculated on Twitter that the two hands on the upper edge of the cup belong to a same-sex couple, holding hands like in the Starbucks' holiday cup video."
NCRM reported on that video weeks ago – it does include a same-sex couple, about to kiss.
Other media outlets quickly picked up the Buzzfeed report. A partial timeline, via a chronological sort of Google News:
"People Say Starbucks' New Holiday Cups Have a 'Gay Agenda'" (Grub Street)
"The Starbucks Holiday Cup Apparently Has A Gay Agenda And, Thank God, Everyone Is Chill About It (UpRoxx)
"Starbucks holiday cup causes social media buzz over mystery hands" (Fox News)
"Beware The Starbucks Holiday Cups' Secret Gay Agenda!" (NewNowNext)
"Starbucks under fire over holiday cups that 'feature same-sex couples' hands" (The Independent)
"Is there a secret gay agenda on Starbucks' Christmas cups?" (Pink News)
"People Are Arguing Over Whether Starbucks' Holiday Cup Is 'Gay'" (The Daily Caller)
"Starbucks' Holiday Cups Spark Debate Over The Company's Alleged 'Gay Agenda'!" (PerezHilton)
"Starbucks cups with ‘gay agenda’ brew up controversy, boycott hashtag" (NY Daily News)
"Conservatives Attack Starbucks Holiday Cup's 'Gay Agenda'" (Advocate)
"Starbucks Holiday Cups Face Controversy For Being LGBTQ Friendly" (Teen Vogue)
There are more but you get the picture.
Note how the articles start with, basically, "Starbucks' Christmas cups have a gay agenda!" and gradually move to "There's a gay agenda controversy over Starbucks cups," and end up, essentially, "People are boycotting Starbucks for their gay agenda coffee cups."
Literally, Buzzfeed found a few people who thought maybe the hands on the Starbucks cup might be two women, and went with it as news. And the response to that thinly-sourced article morphed into this Holiday season's Starbucks controversy.
Business Insider's Kate Taylor just published an opinion piece in what is essentially a follow up to their first report that called Buzzfeed's Starbucks story "bizarre." They beat us to publication (this article was started last week) but correctly report: "BuzzFeed News and other publications promoted and created the theory based on little evidence."
BuzzFeed News published an article saying the cups could be "totally gay" based on a handful of tweets and an inclusive ad campaign. This article was aggregated by several other news publications, which created enough of a narrative that backlash finally emerged.
However, there was no outrage until it was manufactured by the media.
Now, to be clear, NCRM occasionally will use people's responses on Twitter to help readers see what's happening in real time, or what experts are saying about an important story. Last Thursday night, for example, when President Trump went after Senator Franken, despite numerous allegations against Trump by at least 16 women, we focused our story on the anger and outrage people were feeling on social media, and how they were sharing quotes from his "Access Hollywood" tape because that was news that was happening. We didn't look for a controversy that wasn't there and we didn't try to create one.
Buzzfeed does some excellent reporting. This was not excellent reporting.
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