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This Year’s Starbucks Christmas Cup Controversy Is The Most Fake Yet

This year, the entirety of the evidence for this New York Times article appears to be — and I’m completely serious — a single tweet by someone with 16 followers as of press time.


The New York Times — the Grey Lady, our paper of record — has a very important story it would like you to read. Here’s one of the many tweets the publication has sent out about it:

The responses on Twitter were swift. Boy, are those conservatives awful. We just knew it. Why can’t they prioritize better in a world where people are dying? Conservatives are insane and hateful! Republican strategist Steve Schmidt was representative:

But the story itself did precisely nothing — and I mean nothing — to substantiate the tweets. The article was headlined “Starbucks Is Criticized for Its Holiday Cups. Yes, Again.” The story does not support this headline.

Two years ago we were subjected to claims that Christians and conservatives were completely offended by the 2015 Starbucks Christmas cup. That was so false that it led me to write a piece headlined, “Nobody Is Actually Upset About The Starbucks Cup. Stop Saying Otherwise.”

But at least there was some tiny smidgen of evidence of someone on planet earth being offended by it — namely a Breitbart writer who wrote a tongue-in-cheek jeremiad against the cup and a Christian shock jock-type guy who makes viral videos doing his thing against the cup.

This year, the entirety of the evidence for this New York Times article appears to be — and I’m completely serious — a single tweet by someone with 16 followers as of press time. And that tweet isn’t even mentioned in the Times‘ article! It is included in articles the Times links to.

Despite the tweets and the headline, the story goes off the rails immediately, with a verbose and non-specific lead. The main takeaway is that Starbucks gets pushback for its Christmas cups each year and “This year, critics wonder if Starbucks is using its holiday cups to promote homosexuality.”

Except the only real people wondering that aren’t critics, but fans. Viewers of an ad introducing the ad saw two women holding hands in it “as a nod toward the inclusion of gay and transgender customers,” New York Times reporter Liam Stack writes, highlighting a tweet from the British LGBT Awards praising the ad. The next evidence — the one that mentions a “gay agenda” — is from BuzzFeed, also praising Starbucks. Here’s how Stack describes it:

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.

The next “evidence” is a Fox News article that aggregates the BuzzFeed piece. Then it’s a Blaze article that does the same. Here’s how the New York Times sets that up: “The conservative site The Blaze also waded in, saying Starbucks had launched a ‘gay agenda campaign.'” Except that’s not what The Blaze said. It merely quoted BuzzFeed’s claim about a gay agenda. The same way that this New York Times article did.

All three sites — BuzzFeed, Fox News, and The Blaze — posted the tweet from the person with 16 followers as evidence of people unhappy with the cup. I don’t know what it is about media outlets needing to invent these stories around Christmas time, but this is seriously getting out of hand. From two years ago:

Jonathan Merritt wrote in the Washington Post at that time: published a story on Monday purporting that the cup design caused a ‘boycott from Christian groups,’ but the actual article cites exactly zero Christian groups calling for such a thing. The Los Angeles Times claimed evangelical Christians were ‘seeing red,’ but only cited a couple of random Twitter critics. The New York Daily News claimed that ‘Christian evangelists’ were angered by the cups, but they cited only a lone student pastor from a small church in Sarasota.

To the Washington Post‘s credit, they have not jumped on this fake news story as their counterparts at The New York Times did.

How we celebrate holy days is important. For Christians, who comprise the vast majority of the U.S. population, this is a very holy day. Commercial involvement in Christmas is complicated and important for both the religious practitioners and the retail outlets that serve them.

Let’s do a better job of covering this nuanced story and work to avoid stories that encourage people to feel holier than the out-group. And since we all enjoy those stories that makes us feel like we’re better than other people, that’s a message for all of us to take to heart.

In the meantime, may Christians’ preparation for Christmas bless them. Here are some ideas for how to make it so.