Red Cup or Red Herring?

Published: November 11, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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The choice of stories selected by broadcast news directors sometimes amazes me — example: the Starbucks Red Cup “Controversy.”

What began as a YouTube rant about Starbucks alleged lack of acknowledgement of Christmas turned out to be a red herring that was a complete waste of news time.


After years of offering cheery Christmas designs on their cups, coffee monster Starbucks decided to go low profile with a simple red cup with their logo in the center; no snowman, reindeer, ornaments or snowflakes. Their message was one of inclusiveness to customers of all ethnic backgrounds and religions.

However, as reported by CNN (Nov. 9), “Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor who calls himself a ‘social media personality,’ took exception…. He posted a video to Facebook on November 5 that went viral. Feuerstein criticizes Starbucks for removing ‘Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus.’ ”


Feuerstein’s rant quickly became a fake firestorm asking customers to tell Starbucks baristas “Merry Christmas” in place of their names in order to “trick” them into honoring Christmas.

“ ‘I think Starbucks has gotten the message that the Christian majority in this country has awakened and are demanding that our voice be heard,’ he said.

“In response to Feuerstein’s video, Starbucks said in a statement Sunday that it tries ‘to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.’ The cup is meant to be a ‘blank canvas’ that encourages ‘customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way,’ Starbucks said.

“Pictures of cups with ‘Merry Christmas’ written instead of customers’ names sprang up on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.”

Sounds ridiculous on the surface, but in watching an interview by CNN reporter Brianna Keilar with Feuerstein and Serius-XM Host Pete Dominick, something else emerged.

There’s a little back and forth in which Feuerstein touts how his video has had “13 million views in three days. It’s a trending hashtag,” he says, “for the last two days on social media. I think that what we have tapped into here is that there’s a large demographic of Christian Americans that are saying, we are fed up with being politically correct and it’s time to just be correct.”

During all of this, Dominick narrows his eyes, suspiciously. He can’t believe this guy’s arguing about a coffee cup. During his rebuttal, Dominick clicks off several bizarre protests Feuerstein has authored including “…tak[ing] up arms against Gay people… trying to debunk evolution…. He’s made some money on the side as a Chaz Bono impersonator… “

All of this, however, is a red herring. Here comes Feuerstein’s real message.

“I mean, look,” Feuerstein emphasizes, “if this was not a Judeo-Christian society, then why did Obama have to pretend to be one in order to get elected?”


“Ohhh, there it is!” Dominick declares. “There — that’s what I’m talking about, Brianna. ‘Obama pretends to be a Christian.’ ”

Before ending the segment, Keilar quickly tells Feuerstein “I do have to fact-check you, Joshua, because the president is a Christian.”

Keilar also points out what I saw in the store myself, namely Christmas decorations for sale along with bags of beans imprinted with the words: “Christmas Blend.”

What we’ve got here is the old fake out. Beat your chest about some silly topic, then slip in a personal jab against (fill in the blank), in this case the President, and get yourself some media attention.

With stories like the University of Missouri president and chancellor resigning amid on-campus racial tensions, the apparent ISIS-inspired bombing of a Russian airliner, Obama and Netanyahu seeking to move past their disagreements for a meeting this week; not to mention presidential candidate debates, and… the design choice of a Starbucks Christmas cup requires national media attention?

Memo to News Directors: Stop falling for bizarre stunts like Feuerstein’s in order to fill air time. It’s irresponsible and a waste of our time. YouTube is not a reliable source for legitimate news.


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