According to Jack Flack, we can expect more publicity stunts from Starbucks and Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz in the future because, even though everyone knows that Starbucks launches these campaigns — here’s a detailed look — more for hype than to effect any kind of meaningful change, more than a few, particularly USA Today, which has long since eschewed its journalistic integrity, are more than happy to play along.
Here Flack’s five reasons why he thinks the Starbucks Froth Formula, as he calls it, will keep on brewing, largely through media outfits like USA Today — Jim Romenesko calls it the “SBUX PR department’s favorite publication” — who apparently can’t resist his charm:
1. Schultz is a celebrity “get.” Thus, there will always be a willing media outlet for his latest campaign, especially if access to Schultz is divvied out as “exclusives.” Starbucks capitalizes on the dynamics of access journalism as effectively as any company in the world, trading precious time with their celebrity CEO in exchange for fair-to-fawning treatment.
2. Schultz stands out. Because few other CEOs see any benefit in “taking a stand” on social issues that are peripheral to their companies, Schultz’s social proclamations are novel, and thus qualify as news in a content-starved media environment. The journalistic rationale is “Hey, it might be light on substance, but at least he’s saying something different than most corporate bosses.
3. Schultz knows how to package. He and his team excel in creating non-event events, capitalizing on the topicality of hot social issues by manufacturing a few symbolic gestures and putting Schultz on the stage. For instance, want to champion employment when you’ve actually been shrinking your own workforce? Then why not simply sell job-creating “Indivisible” bracelets for $5 a piece?
4. Schultz keeps moving. By shifting from one cause to the next, Starbucks never faces serious scrutiny on the actual results of its efforts. For instance, a year from now, will any journalist have much incentive to follow up on whether Starbucks actually fulfills the promise it made last week to hire 10,000 disadvantaged teens and young adults? Even if so, that lone report will likely be lost amidst coverage of whatever Starbucks’ new cause of the day might be.
5. Schultz won’t back down. Of all of his strengths as a leader, Schultz’s intrepid sense of conviction has likely been the most important ingredient of his undeniably remarkable success. No matter how skeptical the questioning becomes, Howard Schultz seems to really, really believe Howard Schultz.
If you have to believe in something, might as well believe in yourself, I guess.
After watching the rest of CNN’s special, “Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers” (video here), I will say that other than my initial concern, the show did a decent job of representing the very human struggle that many atheists face when they come to the conclusion that they no longer believe and the consequences that often follow when former believers abandon the faith of their family and friends.
The story of David Gormley, a former Christian with an evangelical family living in Georgia, was particularly heartbreaking. Gormley seems like a thoughtful guy who just wants to live an honest life free of hypocrisy. Like so many in similar situations, he genuinely couldn’t believe now even if he wanted to, yet he gets branded as a “dead person” by his father for simply wanting to seek the truth and drawing a conclusion on how to live his own life. And then there was the anonymous pastor, who is still leading a congregation despite not believing in the words he preaches from scripture. Offering one of the most salient points of the show, which taps into one reason why religion is a bane on society, he said if churches would devote the millions of dollars they spend on ornate windows and buildings and use the money to feed the hungry, communities around the nation would be transformed.
The special also did a good job of highlighting the fact that although nonbelievers share a common philosophy, they all can’t be lumped into one monolithic unit. Some nonbelievers, like former pastor Jerry DeWitt, who reminds me of a kind of atheist version of Rick Warren, adopt the mission of making the world a better place and loving everyone, regardless of whether someone’s religious or not. They don’t ridicule religion. They adopt a live and let live approach. On the other side of the spectrum, however, is someone like David Silverman, with American Atheists, who takes a more hard-lined, combative approach. I hope viewers of the show understood the implication: Atheism doesn’t have a spokesman or spokeswoman. One person, neither Silverman, DeWitt or Richard Dawkins, can or should represent millions of nonbelievers. Silverman, in particular, doesn’t speak for a lot of nonbelievers (and he had a couple inaccuracies in his interview), and I, for one, was alarmed when he said:
People don’t realize how downtrodden atheists are. The fact is we’re the most hated group in the country.
It may be true that atheists are not liked in some sectors of the nation, but “most hated?” I don’t think so. That lovely tag could be applied to the God Hates Fags folks or some other actual hate group. And what about downtrodden? That’s news to me too. Even the suggestion that atheists are downtrodden or somehow subjugated in America in the 21st century goes against everything freethinkers like Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and damn sure Christopher Hitchens — along with their fans — have stood for. Silverman is hardly a “legend in the atheist world,” as CNN contends. And I think that is largely the point. From the atheist viewpoint, there are no legends; only people, striving “in our ordinariness,” as Dawkins said.
I did have a few points of contention with the special. First, the title would have been better if it was simply: “Inside Atheism” or “Atheism: The Real Lives of Nonbelievers.” “Inside the World of Non-Believers” seems to suggest that atheism is like Scientology or some other cult into which a daring reporter must become embedded to understand its true nature when, in fact, all a journalist has to do is walk down the street, and chances are they will run into someone who does not believe in God. Just like there is no spokesperson, there is no insular atheistic “world” to find except Planet Earth. In fact, one could argue that nonbelievers are more comfortable with this world and more attuned to this world than believers who constantly pine for some better reality than our own.
Second, as Hemant Mehta pointed out, the show largely consisted of nonbelievers who were white males, and as far as I can tell, Vanessa Zoltan, with the Humanist Hub, was the only female atheist. What was missing was someone from the African-American community. The Black Atheists group on Facebook has more than 12,000 members. Surely, CNN could have reached out to one of them. What about Morgan Freeman? Whoopi Goldberg? Lauren Anderson Youngblood? Mandisa L. Thomas, president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc.?
Finally, the special didn’t include a whole lot of insight, which would seemingly be critical to a special on atheism, into why former believers turned away from their faith in the first place. I would have liked to see a little more commentary on what compels people like David Gormley and the anonymous pastor to reject religion. Perhaps in the full interviews that we didn’t see, the interviewees did address that question more fully, but it was largely left off the show. In almost every case from which I have heard, former believers become atheists or agnostics only after a monumental philosophical struggle and lots of studying and contemplation; they don’t just wake up one day and decide to disavow the god of their family and friends out of the blue or because they want to be contrarians or hurt anyone. They come to their conclusions because of a genuine desire to know or get as close to the truth as possible and to know what really happened, or what didn’t happen, 2,000 years ago in ancient Palestine, for if Christianity or Islam or Judaism were really worth their weight in salt, they should be able to stand up to scrutiny. Millions have thus concluded that they can’t.
All that said, what the show did particularly well, I thought, was presenting Dawkins, DeWitt and others as approachable, pleasant and happy people to contrast with common misperceptions and stereotypes about nonbelievers. What it seemed to lack, as expected given the source and the audience, was depth.
I’ve only gotten through five minutes of CNN’s special tonight on atheism, and already the tone has taken a negative turn. Here is an exchange between Richard Dawkins and a journalist:
Interviewer: What is it about atheism that rocks so many people to the core?
Dawkins: It’s a very odd thing that the very word “atheism” has a sort terrible resonance to people.
Then seemingly answering her own question:
Interviewer: ‘Cause people (much like yourself, perhaps?) think devil worshiping, morally bankrupt.
Dawkins: I know. It’s possible that that word has become so deeply ingrained in sort of a horror reaction that we do need to find a better word.
Interviewer: And there are other words. “None.” “Humanist.” “Skeptic.” “Freethinker.” “Agnostic.” Millions of Americans.
I’m sure Dawkins gave a fuller reply that doesn’t make him sound like he’s tacitly agreeing with her suggestion, but the video cuts away to another segment at that point. What struck me, other than the paradox of a “devil worshiping” nonbeliever, was that the narrator lowered her voice on those last three words, turned to a gloomy inflection, and said “millions of Americans,” as if she was describing cancer patients or convicts on death row.
Hear for yourself:
I thought my DVR was recording the whole special, but there was apparently an error, so I didn’t get the chance to see the whole show, but I will provide my thoughts on the rest of it shortly.
In any case, CNN was set to air the first national TV ad from American Atheists before and after the show, according to Hemant Mehta, but even that was softened to try to prevent offending believers. In the original spot, the video was edited to remove a nun that could be seen singing with some nonbelievers, you know, in a show of harmony and human solidarity.
According to Mehta:
CNN said they couldn’t air the costumed nun because it mocked religion. I don’t really see how a still image like that constitutes mockery … but the final version had the nun cropped out.
Here are the two ads.
Part of me can’t help but wonder if CNN’s producers are secretly rubbing their hands in some kind of sadistic satisfaction that they can now justify spending weeks and weeks in obsessed speculation about what happened in this most recent event involving Airbus A320.
In an update to this post, Starbucks, presumably after public outcry at the ridiculousness of this initiative, is apparently no longer encouraging employees to write #RaceTogether on cups or giving them license to engage in dialogue about race with customers. But the company isn’t going quietly into that good night on this issue. Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said the company’s effort to support discussion on race was “far from over.” He also claimed, dubiously in my view, that the #RaceTogether phase of the campaign was always scheduled to wrap up this past weekend. Cough. Bullshit. Cough.
Dale Hansen has brought the rhetorical pain on the Dallas Cowboys for hiring Greg Hardy, who was involved in a domestic dispute for beating his girlfriend, threatening to kill her and then paying her off to simply disappear:
Hardy was convicted of assault and sending death threats this past summer. And now, he will be playing football for the Cowboys, who will pay him a handsome $11.3 million. Meanwhile, the Cowboys, and the NFL more broadly, have relinquished any remaining scruples to which they were still feebly clinging. After Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s track record on domestic violence is indefensible.
I’ve heard the term “post racial” tossed around a lot lately, especially in light of the 50th anniversary of the march through Selma, Ala., and the nation’s first black president — the symbolism of a confident black man driving with his entourage across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is named for a racist former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was indeed a powerful image (video here) — but after Travon Marton, Eric Garner, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., this and now this, I wonder if we aren’t regressing on race in America:
The coroner of Claiborne County, Miss., said a 54-year-old African American man, Otis Byrd, was found dead hanging from a tree on Thursday. The FBI and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are reportedly on the scene and investigating, and the local chapter of the NAACP has asked the Justice Department to join the investigation. Byrd reportedly went missing 10 days ago when a friend dropped him off at Vicksburg’s Riverwalk Casino. Authorities discovered Byrd’s body “hanging about a half mile from his last known residence.” In 1980, Byrd was convicted of murdering a woman in the same county for $101. Byrd served 25 years in prison and was paroled in 2006.
We don’t know yet whether this apparent lynching was motivated by race or not, but unless he underwent some serious personal reforms in the last eight years, he doesn’t appear to have been an angel and could have had enemies. Or it could have been motivated by racism. In any case, it goes without saying that the work of civil rights doesn’t and shouldn’t stop just because the son of a white woman from Kansas and black man from Kenya inhabits the Oval Office or gives a moving speech in the New South that’s still struggling to exorcise the ghosts of a sordid past.
Although America really needs a figure like Martin Luther King Jr. to bravely lead the nation into a new era of modernity and get us closer to completing the work of people like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, King and Malcolm X , what we got instead were pale imitations and liberal moralizing from the Howard Schultzs of the world. So, don’t despair, coffee lovers. Tweet: Just hop down to Planet Starbucks and strike up a high-minded conversation on race with your neighborhood college student.
UPDATE: According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, the preliminary autopsy indicates that the incident involving Otis Byrd was a suicide:
Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas told the Los Angeles Times that while a bedsheet was wrapped around the man’s neck, there were no other visible signs of distress on the body. The man’s hands and feet were not tied or bound, his mouth was not gagged, there were no other outward signs of injuries.
Lucas added that no note was found on the body and authorities have not heard of any threats against the man.
The full report is expected to be released next week.
Hell, I think Republicans should be gleeful that Glenn Beck has decided to leave the Republican Party, but this shift in the GOP should have happened the other way around.
Now that members of the Republican Party are finally realizing, after six years of the crazy, that the Tea Party and its ilk have sent the party careening dangerously close to the edge of oblivion, establishment Republicans should have neutered the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck years ago. They didn’t, so now they are left with picking up the pieces of a broken party. As I have been saying for the better part of three years, time for the GOP to boot the crazies and reclaim the center held, somewhat admirably, by Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
The social and political insight Chris Rock has brought to his comedy the last 10 years has been off the charts, but just to here him speak on any serious issue is enlightening stuff. Take this part of an interview he conducted recently with Frank Rich:
What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?
I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.
Well, that would be much more revealing.
Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
Right. It’s ridiculous.
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
According to Forbes, Starbucks plans to begin encouraging baristas to engage in conversations about race with customers:
I tend to agree with the sentiments of Jessica Roy with New York magazine:
… there’s nothing a kid just trying to put himself through school wants more than to engage caffeine-starved rich people in fraught social discourse.