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 …

I'll spare you the rest.

Mind you, as Fortune says, "It’s also worth noting previous Starbucks red cups lacked any outright Christian symbolism." But the video has been clicked 12 million times, and gosh durned if a lot of people aren’t actually following Josh's lead on this. As BuzzFeed shows, they're posting selfies and close-ups of their Yuletide-marked cups.

You could say that Starbucks set themselves up for this. The company has frequently gone out of its way to advertise its support for "the LGBT community and marriage equality." And it tried its own cup-based preaching this March in its "Race Together" campaign about racial issues -- a campaign, as Fortune magazine notes, that it gave up after less than a week.

But for this level of silliness, mainstream media pros have been surprisingly snark free. You have the usual rebuke and ridicule from bloggers and columnists, but coverage has been largely confined to facts and quotes.

CBS News, for instance, simply logged the flap with no commentary. The report also quotes and links to a Starbucks statement, which says the firm "wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

The New York Daily News gets pretty enterprising, reporting that "Outrage over the red cups is not exclusive to the United States":

British politician David Burrowes joined the criticism against Starbucks’ new design as an attempt to play it safe.
“The Starbucks coffee cup change smells more of political correctness than a consumer-led change,” Burrowes told Breitbart London. “The public has a common sense grasp on the reality that at Christmas time, whether you have a Christian faith or not, Britain celebrates Christmas.”

Even sharper, the Daily News depicts Starbucks' cups of Christmas past, showing that they never bore anything more specific than a “jazzy Santa.”

CNN Money likewise goes down the middle. So does USA Today, which merely ends with: "Feuerstein's campaign continues to roil social media. But not everyone agreed with lighting a fire under Starbucks."

United Press International -- yes, they're still around, after a fashion -- also plays it pretty straight. Their main oddity is a lot of terms in quote marks. Example: "Feurstein encouraged others to join in his movement by taking 'coffee selfies' with cups featuring the phrase 'Merry Christmas' written on them and using the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks." It starts looking like sarcasm quotes, although the overall tone doesn't convey that.

Closest to a jab is a breezy Washington Post lede:

Some say Jesus Christ healed the sick and died to redeem humankind. Little is said about his views on the Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Still, secular coffee maker Starbucks has come under fire from some Christians who say the company isn’t repping hard enough for Jesus on its recent understated holiday cups. The problem? Political correctness, according to one evangelical.

But I especially admired the treatment by Fox News. Say what you will about "Faux News" as its many disdainers call it, but the network did air some valuable, factual background on Feuerstein's previous antics:

This isn’t the first time that Feuerstein has tried to stir controversy with hot button issues. He first gained national attention last year when he posted a Facebook video of himself calling a Florida bakery demanding a cake with the words, "We do not support gay marriage." It being April 1, the owner thought it was a joke, hung up, and subsequently got hundreds of calls and death threats from some of his more than one million followers.
In July, Feuerstein posted another video on Facebook that suggested Christians should fight against gay rights with firearms.

Fox also includes an angle lacking in most other stories -- reaction from a more representative Christian leader:

Last week speaking about the cups' new design, Paul Batura, vice president of communications at Focus on the Family, said snowflakes and carolers are not symbols of Christmas.
"I wonder if we’re not overthinking or overanalyzing this,” he said. “Christmas isn’t found in a cup or in a snowflake. Instead, it’s found in the hearts and minds of those of us who believe that God sent His only son to earth in the form of an innocent, helpless baby."

A lot of Christians talk about restoring the Reason for the Season. But I'm glad that so many media want to restore reason to the season as well.

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