Half (and Half) Truths: What the Starbucks Debacle Can Teach Us About Spin and Agendas

Coffee MorningCoffee MorningHave you heard the one about the Starbucks CEO saying he didn't want traditional marriage supporters' business?

Yeah, I heard it too. It was kind of hard to miss with all of the conservative columns and bloggers erupting in outrage.

Here's how one outlet reported the story:


"At the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, CEO Howard Schultz sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional marriage over gay marriage: we don't want your business. After saying Starbucks wants to "embrace diversity of all kinds," he told a shareholder who supports traditional marriage that he should sell his shares and invest in some other company."

Pretty outrageous, right? The only problem is that the story is not true.

Here's what actually happened.

At the Starbucks annual meeting, a shareholder challenged CEO Howard Schultz over Starbucks open support for gay marriage, claiming that it hurt shareholder returns. Schultz responded:

Not every decision is an economic decision. Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38% shareholder return over the last year. I don't know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38% over the last 12 months. Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.

If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it's a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.

Now I am a defender of marriage as a religious joining of a man and a woman, but I have absolutely no problem with what Schultz said. I don't see anywhere that he said he doesn't want my business. (Well, except for his prices. Coffee should be an indulgence, not an investment.) Instead he said that his policies reflected his beliefs, and if customers or investors decided they didn't want to do business with him, that was their right.

Related: 12 things every father should teach his daughters

And that's fair. As a business owner, Schultz has the right to set his policies in accordance with his beliefs, as long as those policies do not discriminate illegally against customers or employees. In the same way, his investors and customers have the right to buy or not buy from his company, and they are free to base that decision on whether or not they support his policies.

But I'm not really here to talk about coffee or the legitimacy of gay marriage; I'm here to talk about spin. Or more directly, lying your butt off to advance your agenda.

Lying is a harsh word, but what else would you call leaving out pertinent information in order to encourage a reaction which would not be supported by the whole story. The two sections I quoted from two different sources demonstrate this perfectly. While the first passage is technically correct, it creates a false impression of Schultz's position and of what he said. You can call it spin; I call it lying, and it's wrong. If I can't win an argument with the truth, then I don't want to win it.

What's scary is how many places spin has replaced facts and truth. It isn't just politics although that is one of the most obvious places to see the corruption. It's so bad now that there are special spaces set up at Presidential Debates to set the narrative before the debate and to control the story after the debate. While it is amusing to watch these professional liars try to claim that their candidate did not really say what he just said, it was also scary knowing that most people skipped the debates and would be relying on these same professional liars to decide who they would vote for. But the same thing is happening in our courts now. It's not about the facts anymore, if it ever was. Now it's about creating a narrative for the jury that will convince them of the defendant's innocence or guilt. Prosecutors work to keep exculpatory evidence away from the jury while defense attorneys seek to suppress evidence that might 'unduly prejudice' the jury. Both sides work, not to reach the truth, but to spin the facts in order to reach the best outcome for their side.

And let's not forget the press. On second thought, let's forget the press; their current status is simply too depressing. Instead of watchdogs, they've become lap dogs or attack dogs. True objectivity was always an unattainable goal, but I liked it better when reporters at least tried to reach that objective.

Let me ask you a questions. Would you accept this kind of fundamental dishonesty from your doctor? Would you appreciate it if he 'spun' his diagnosis to encourage you to do what he wanted you to do? You know, exaggerate certain risks in order to get you to modify your lifestyle to one he personally approves of, or to get you to take a certain medication that he nets him a kickback? If not, then why would you accept it from your government, or your legal system?

How about your kids? When you ask them a question, are you willing to accept spin instead of the truth? Will you allow them to evade the question? Or will you demand the truth? Why would you hold your children to a different standard of honesty than your elected representatives?

Isn't it time we demanded better?

-By Rich Hailey
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