Press Box

The Ken Aulatte

The media reporter’s words now come to you on a Starbucks cup.

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Starbucks, that purveyor of burnt coffee, overpriced pastries, and soggy sandwiches, now serves food for the mind with its “The Way I See It” series of coffee cups. Each cup includes a quotation from a “notable figure” designed to “get people talking,” as the company’s Web site puts it. The current lineup includes quips from Roger Ebert, Yvon Chouinard, Al Franken, and Mitch Albom, but the heavy cream in the mix is New Yorker media reporter Ken Auletta. Drawn from his book Backstory: Inside the Business of News, coffee cup quotation No. 18 reads:

There are those who believe a liberal or a conservative bias permeates the media. I don’t. The operative press bias is one that favors conflict, not ideology, and it is lashed by a market-driven bias to boost ratings or circulation with more wow stories, more sizzle.

Auletta says he gets no money—or even free coffee—out of the deal, and did it only after he determined it was free of any conflict of interest. It’s the same as if Barnes & Noble were to request permission to put a poster of him up in one of its stores to promote his books, he says, and he’s right, of course. When I asked Auletta if he plans to extend the Auletta brand beyond coffee cups—Pampers, SUVs, bottled water, for example—he replied, “I don’t believe in extending brands. I only believe in synergy.”

I set my Auletta cup aside for personal inscription the next time he comes through town, and that got me to thinking. Maybe Auletta should go on a cup-signing tour and visit all 6,409 Starbucks locations in America. He could ask Nielsen BookScan to start CupScan and count the Aulettas moving out of Starbucks. A limited edition of leather-bound Auletta cups, perhaps?

If you ask me, Starbucks spoiled its cup series by reaching beyond writers to include an actor (Goldie Hawn), musicians (Melissa Etheridge, Stephin Merritt), and a food maven (Bob Blumer). Better to stick with people from the world of journalism—and formulate signature drinks to go with their names. Who could resist a bracing milk-based beverage called the Ken Aulatte. But what to put in the Ken Aulatte?

I had less trouble imagining the ingredients in the rest of the menu:

The David Broder: tepid vanilla decaf. The Michael Isikoff: four shots of espresso—which he throws into your face.The Judith Miller: a double botulinum toxin, lowfat ricin, dusted with anthrax. Once ordered, nobody can find it.The Charlie Rose: “No, Mr. Barista, tell me about your drink.”The Jim Romenesko: several times a day, take a shot from all the half-drunk cups in the store and mix them together.The Pat Buchanan: cafe Americano brewed from American beans. The Rupert Murdoch: extra-hot sleaze.The Newsday: “100 Trillion Sold.”The Lee Siegel: a single shot—to your head.The Bonnie Fuller: sugar and froth topped with whip cream. Served half-naked.The Mother Jones: brown rice, seaweed, wheat-grass, soy smoothie.The Gawkerccino: coffee grounds and broken glass.The Philip Anschutz: a very, very short coffee. And it’s free.The Bill Moyers: fair-trade coffee brewed by union employees with distilled water. Product placement on PBS. Comes with a coffee table book. How can you in good conscience, sir, not drink fair trade!? The Christopher Hitchens: a venti Irish coffee, hold the coffee.

Is there anybody I haven’t offended?


What’s in the Jack Shafer? E-mail only if you must: (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)