ABC Serves Up Bias against Starbucks

             Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) has become a convenient morning stop on many hectic commutes. Recent studies have even pointed to coffee’s potential in helping to prevent cirrhosis of the liver. But on ABC, the coffee maker was criticized during a “consumer alert” that treated cups of coffee like a “dose” of a hard drug.


The June 19 edition of “Good Morning America” presented Starbucks as akin to a narcotics dealer preying on addicts. Correspondent Elizabeth Leamy explained “many customers love their regular dose.” The camera then cut to a shot of an apparent Starbucks consumer who referred to her relationship with the restaurant as “habitual.” And the language only got stronger when Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Executive Director Michael Jacobson called trans fats in Starbucks doughnuts “killer substances.”


CSPI was the main ingredient to the network attack, but GMA fill-in anchor Kate Snow called them simply a “consumer group” and ignored the organization’s anti-food industry history. This was the second time in a few days CSPI has received attention for assaults against fast food companies. Last week, CSPI lashed out against KFC.


Leamy said CSPI is attempting to “shame” restaurants into placing nutrition information directly onto the products or on the menu. Starbucks and KFC already prominently display nutrition information on their Web sites and provide in-store pamphlets. Both companies have also been targeted for their use of trans fats.


The segment even contained a misleading editing trick that may have confused viewers about Jacobson’s credentials. After a voiceover stated that “Doctors now say you should try to eliminate trans fat from your diet,” Jacobson was shown on screen. The show never made an attempt to clarify his title or position with CSPI. Jacobson holds a Ph.D., but he is not a medical doctor. He is, however, well known for lashing out against the food industry and earlier this month a report from the Business & Media Institute documented his ongoing battle with KFC.


A June 16, 2006 Reuters article stated that Starbucks employees have complained of weight gain after receiving such job perks as free pastries and unlimited beverages. Consumers, however, seem satisfied by both of the major food chains. On June 14, 2006 GMA questioned several KFC customers, all seemed to enjoy the food and to understand its nutritional consequences. A female KFC customer stated “I know a lot of things I eat are not healthy. It's just, we want it, we desire it, so we go and we eat it.”


But CSPI wasn’t limiting itself to the industry’s “worst offenders.” The June 14 “World News Tonight” said that CSPI had found trans fats harder to avoid at KFC than any other fast food restaurant. The “Good Morning America” segment had CSPI admitting Starbucks wasn’t event close to the worst restaurant, but that it would make a “great example of why labeling would help.” A customer interviewed later in the segment disagreed when he said he “highly doubted” that additional nutritional information would affect his order at the national coffee chain.