Pop Ethics Quiz: Showdown At Starbucks

Florida Governor Rick Scott just wanted to get a cup of coffee during a visit to a Starbucks in downtown Gainesville, but instead was ambushed by former Lake Worth City Commissioner Cara Jennings, who was already at a table, just by coincidence, of course.

“You cut Medicaid so I couldn’t get Obamacare,” she yelled at Scott, as a man who, also by coincidence, happened to have a political YouTube channel and just happened to be ready with his camera recorded everything to post online. “You’re an asshole. You don’t care about working people. You should be ashamed to show your face around here.”

The surprised Governor retorted  that he had created a million jobs, and his tormenter mocked,“A million jobs? Great, who here has a great job? I was looking forward to finishing school. You really feel you have a job coming up?”

“Shame on you Rick Scott,” she added. “We depend on those services. Rich people like you don’t know what to do.”

Scott left without his coffee.

Now quick, in three seconds: what was the most unethical conduct on display here?

I have checked the comment threads in conservative and left-leaning blogs and news sources, and no commenter has mentioned it.

Here is what isn’t the answer:

  • It isn’t anything Rick Scott has done. He has made legal, defensible policy decisions, all of which were mischaracterized by Jennings in her staged rant.
  • No, it isn’t the fact that this was almost certainly a staged ambush by a master activist.  Jennings is not, as she tried to present herself, just a random coffee-lover who happened to be in the same Starbucks the Governor walked into. She’s a former city commissioner and habitual protester who brought her own videographer along, though when he posted the clip he just called his associate “a woman,” which is deceit. Scott had a previously announced visit nearby, he has well-documented habit of patronizing Starbucks, and she was ready for him and arranged to have her political theater recorded.

That’s unethical, but it isn’t the answer either.

  • Is it the fact that the news media allowed this charade, and that many sources just describe her as spontaneous  protester and not a Democratic politician and community activist? No, but that is incompetent and biased, don’t you think?
  • Is it the obvious hypocrisy of a woman who claims to be in the depths of poverty supposedly getting four dollar coffee? This was the most popular complaint of commenters on the conservative site The Blaze, who also mocked Jennings’ entitlement mindset.

Answer: The most unethical conduct on display here is the reaction of the Starbuck’s staff. A customer who walks into a Starbucks trusts that he or she will have a safe and pleasant experience, and will not be attacked, harassed, or abused. Whether the customer being mistreated within their store is a governor or a homeless man, it is the absolute obligation of the staff to immediately intervene and demand that the aggressor…

1. Stop.

2. Take it outside, where there is a right to protest and act like an ass for political theater.

3. Leave, and be alerted that she is no longer welcome to sit and use the facilities as an office, because she abused the privilege.

The staff did nothing, and indeed acted as if what occurs in the store they are managing is none of their concern, even when it involves the abuse of a customer.

This wasn’t even the Bystander Effect (though that was on display too, as none of the coffee-sippers had the decency and presence of mind to tell Jennings, “Hey, shut up! This isn’t your protest space. Let the man get his coffee, and let me drink mine in peace!” Starbucks had a proprietor’s obligation to immediately act to protect its abused guest.

Almost as irritating is the fact that no commenters out of hundreds appeared to even see Starbucks as a participant with any ethical obligations at all. Either they praised Jennings for being a rude and showboating jerk, or they attacked her for hypocrisy. The reflex to choose sides and treat every social encounter these days it an us against them battle made the unequivocal Ethics Dunce invisible:



Sources: The Blaze, Huffington Post

33 thoughts on “Pop Ethics Quiz: Showdown At Starbucks

  1. Well, ONE person tried to tell her to back off but was quickly told “I’m not talking to you” and just as quickly shut up. That aside, Starbucks is also fairly well-known for supporting lefty causes, and most likely young baristas and managers are Clinton (or more likely Sanders) Democrats, so it follows that they would be OK with a Republican political official having “truth to power” spoken to him in their establishment. If it were a black person chewing out a cop, or a pacifist telling off a soldier in uniform, they’d probably be just as ok with it.

    • That brief and timid intervenor was a Scott aide. And a Starbucks staffer would have been obligated not to let that response by. “No, I’m speaking to YOU. Shut up, or get out.”

      • Thanks for the clarification. I agree, but the only time I’ve seen a staffer do something like that is to toss panhandlers out.

      • In fairness, though, lets say you are a 20 year old working at Starbucks. All of this happens in less than a minute. The agitator is very good at being an agitator. She is loud and dominant. Are they trained for this? Should they be?

        • Then you get the manager, who should be good at dealing with disturbances or at least know what to do. I have dealt with other lawyers and pro ses who try to dominate by being loud. My response is to just be louder, and it usually works. I think one judge’s ears are still ringing from the time a pro se tried to interrupt me, and I didn’t just yell, I screamed.

  2. Ambushed is absolutely correct!

    I’m an observer, a crowd watcher, I notice details others ignore, in the theater I intentionally scan the stage to watch what is not the center of attention to see how directors choose to manage non principles and direct reactions and movements of others onstage.

    I’ve been in many places where loud voices disrupt the normal flow. What happens when someone starts actually yelling in an otherwise quite place, ALL eyes immediately turn towards the commotion, it’s been my observation that this is a natural human reaction and that reaction was non-existent in this video. It’s my opinion that everyone there was instructed what to do, Starbucks staff, customers, ALL of them on the ambush side. The person “directing” this video shoot did not want any distractions whatsoever from anyone that was not the principle focus of the video, everything on the ambushing side was unnatural and clearly 100% staged.

    It’s a great representation of the moral bankruptcy of Cara Jennings and the others that directly participated in this ambush. Unfortunately this kind of crap sells to those who are morally bankrupt.

  3. Well done, Jack.

    I hadn’t thought of the Starbucks employees, but you’re exactly right. They should’ve politely but firmly asked the lady to stop harassing their customer inside a private place of business. While there, customers should be entitled to purchase and enjoy their coffee without being rudely upbraided by strangers, regardless of the merits of the belligerent’s position.

    That’s why I always stop by here. Whether or not I agree with your take, you always make me think. It’s hard to place a value on that. Thanks for taking all the time you take to make these observations.

  4. I am not at all surprised by the staff reaction, nor would I have realistically expected any more effective response from a manager. Most of these type businesses employ a lot of young people with very little life experience and who have been shielded from conflict most or all of their lives. Neither life nor training have equipped these youngsters to handle in-store conflicts, and they are usually instructed just to “get the manager,” who is likely little better prepared than the staff, or to call 911 if it gets serious(?). Failure to train employees in the essential skills of any job is always unethical, and any business that hosts customers within its premises should train employees to intervene in conflicts (including calling 911 BEFORE someone is bleeding.) Oh, and Scott need at least one new aide, and a security detail.

  5. Ethical obligations? Under the theory that no company is perfect is it possible that?

    1. The entire event unfolded so quickly that none of the employees had time to react?
    2. The manager is charged with deciding who gets bounced and who doesn’t and that person was in the restroom?
    3. The company chooses not to be the “decider” of what conversations are allowed and which ones must be censored (think sticks and stones)
    4. A million other scenarios.

    Jack at the risk of incurring your wrath (again) is it simply possible that an employee made a mistake or maybe that Starbucks is a popular watering hole because they don’t feel the need to have a policy for everything? That maybe good behavior can’t be regulated and they put their trust in ALL their stakeholders to act the “right” way? Have you ever stopped into a Starbucks to use a restroom and been sent away?

    Do you know anything about this company? Have you seen the very recent 8 minute CEO video statement about the purpose of the corporation in society? Are you aware of the measures Howard Schultz has taken to support veterans, employees, etc? Not just talk but actual walk.

    Our program maintains 6+ years of data on the trust”worthiness” of US headquartered public companies. I will reiterate that while no company is perfect, Starbucks has consistently been a shining “star.”

    I can give you a list of companies to pick on should you feel the need, but this one should get a pass and an apology.

    • Gee, how many rationalizations did you just throw out? I lost count.

      A company that doesn’t fulfill its duty to customers every time is by definition breaching a duty. Nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes, there’s no policy—all total rationalizations. The rest: The Kings Pass, The Saint’s Excuse, “Give Them A Break,” “They deserve this,”…wow.

      So your theory, as I see it, is that only “bad” companies should be called on breaches of duty, is that it? If an individual started berating another diner at a restaurant, how long do you think it would be before a staffer stepped in or called the cops? Are you really saying that with its contributions to charity, Starbuck’s buys itself immunity from criticism when its fails to protect one of its customers from abuse in one of its stores? Seriously?
      As far as this incident is concerned, Starbucks 8 minute CEO video , its support of veterans, employees, etc MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, because it failed in the most basic innkeeper/restaurant duty of all: ensure peace and safety of customers. “Not just talk but actual walk” means in addition to PR, actually train employees to be responsible. Or are you saying that because a progressive, black, female activist was berating a white, conservative male governor who just wanted to buy a cup of coffee in peace, the company endorses his abuse?

      Your argument would make some sense if this wasn’t such a straight up, obvious example of negligence. I’ve seen McDonald’s staff eject unruly customers. Calling someone an asshole in a public place is “fighting words”—there could have been violence. If your shining star doesn’t have training and policies to act quickly to prevent THAT, then it’s no star at all.

      • Duty to customers? Ensure peace and safety? Exactly how do you define those? Where would you suggest establishments draw the line? How should Starbucks train their employees to respond to the customer who is wearing see-through shorts and parading his “man stuff” around like a peacock? I’ve actually witnessed that at two separate corporate establishments in town. (Same guy) How about a customer who is sneezing and blowing their nose? Or the screaming child or someone with body odor? What should be deemed acceptable according to your definition of peace and safety?

        Straight up obvious example of negligence? Doesn’t negligence by definition involve damage or injury? Endorsing abuse? Do you believe that?

        I’m sorry you find my (only) three rationalizations meaningless. Maybe employees should be replaced by robots to avoid the potential fallacies of human behavior. If you think Starbucks is nothing more than PR and charity contributions, you are mistaken. You want to talk about McDonalds? Do you know what happens to your body when you eat one of their hamburgers? There’s a story about duty to customers worth exploring.

        Thank goodness what happened at Starbucks didn’t involve a terrorist with a bomb, or a shooter. And it’s okay to disagree 🙂

        • You found room for even more rationalizations!

          #22. It’s not the worst thing!
          1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it”
          1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”
          2. Ethics Estoppel, or “They’re Just as Bad”
          8. The Trivial Trap (“No harm no foul!”)
          14. Self-validating Virtue

          This is one of the most unhinged comments I’ve had in over ten years of writing about ethics! Good stuff.

            • Post Script (just saw this courtesy of Glenn Reynolds):

              Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says the US presidential election has turned into a “circus” and he has “grave concern” about the country’s future.

              “I think it’s turned into something none of us has ever seen before, which I would label as almost a circus of yelling bombastic attacks, of a lack of respect, of a lack of dignity,” Schultz told employees at a forum last week in Nevada, Fortune’s Phil Wahba reports.

              * * * * * * * * * *

              “I worry if we just continue on this track and don’t speak up,” he said. ”I’m asking myself what can we do, given our scale… to effect change, to elevate the discourse, and to demonstrate that this is not the way the country should be run.”

              Perhaps the first step would be insisting that your own customers and fellow leftists switch to decaf and dial it back a notch or ten: “Gov. Rick Scott heckled at Starbucks: ‘You’re an a**hole!’”

              “Ah, the beauty of progressive call-out culture. It gives anyone on the left a license to be rude and intentionally unpleasant and still feel good about themselves afterwards. According to the Palm Beach Post, this is the same Cara Jennings who during the 2012 election heckled Marco Rubio during a speech to Florida delegates.”

  6. How about the videographer snarking “Sweet!” at the end? One of my least favorite current hipster lefty phrases. Ugh.

  7. That rude bitch customer in Starbucks ought to have a “Scott Lives Matter” posse stalking her till she goes into deep hiding. Let the noise of wrath and disapproval for whoever she is, or whatever she stands for, follow her everywhere, especially in public, and let’s see how much she likes it.

      • I actually believe there is a law of diminishing returns to being an asshole. I actually believe that our humanity equips and even obligates us to become temporary assholes for confronting and defeating the more deliberate and other purpose-driven assholes – like the bitch customer at Starbucks.

        Therefore, if only the victims of what we all know is assholery would rise up and inflict tenfold the assholery on the the most obvious and chronic offenders, the “original” assholery would soon fall out of fashion; the “original” assholes would soon slink off and butt out for good, and the provoked and mobilized “assholes” would soon be able to “disband,” or stand down, and resume less assholery-assaulted lives in a world of fewer true assholes. That worked for America and Americans in World War II.

        So, sorry, Zoltar, but your kind of thinking will only allow the worst assholes to perfect their assholery, to the detriment of us all.

        • luckyesteeyoreman,
          Believe what ever you like; disagree with me if you like; be an asshole if you like; hell I practice being an asshole everyday and I don’t give a flying fart-in-the-wind what anyone thinks of me, but I’m also not an freaking idiot!

          1. It’s quite clear that you have never dealt directly with a political activist who is also an anarchist such as Cara Jennings. You will not cause her and her insane ilk to slink off and butt out, it’ll never happen – never ever! They will stand up to you and let you figuratively and/or literally beat their face to a pulp until YOU are the fall guy and you are the one put in jail and then they will use your reactions as propaganda against all those that oppose them. Their goal is to make YOU look bad whether it’s their words doing it or your irrational reactions to their words and actions, you will loose – period. They will justify all of their words and actions based on your negative reactions, go ahead be an asshole and give them more ammo. These people are blindly insane, ideological driven anarchists, they are terrorists (currently without AK47’s and IED’s), yes I said they are terrorists. They are irrational vipers, all they know how to do is strike at a target regardless of what that target does to them. These terrorists will stop at nothing to accomplish their task, lie, cheat, ambush, incite violence, to them the ends truly justify the means. Their kind of ends justifies the means mentality is equivalent to ISIS! How far are you willing to go to make your point because if you’re ignorant enough then they will “force” you to go all the way and that includes going straight into jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. You ignorantly wanting vengeance and want to “do unto them as they do unto others” will be used to justify their actions.

          2. I am not advocating to do nothing, I’m not advocating turn the other cheek, but you must use your intelligence when combating these insane anarchy driven terrorists; if you react without thinking and jump into the gutter with them, you’ll loose big time. You must pick your battles wisely, confront the insanity on your terms don’t stoop to theirs.

          Your kind of thinking only makes things worse than they already are.

          Just because we the people have the right to do and say whatever we want, does not mean that what we do and say is right.

          • Zoltar, you’re not advocating doing nothing; you’re advocating using intelligence. Okay, can you be more specific? That is a direct challenge.

            I have stated my specific way of confronting rude bitches like that one who heckled Gov. Scott. I blame him and his escorts for not sticking it out in the store, for not refusing to leave, for not insisting on being served as he was entitled, and for not asking for the manager to intervene with the rude bitch customer. There should have been more than one video camera rolling, with one of them being operated by one of Scott’s entourage.

            I do agree with you that some hecklers like that rude bitch at Starbucks are “professionals,” die-hard assholes 100% convinced of their moral superiority and infallible criticism and manners of delivering it.

            So I go back to my original point: Tit-for-tat still works in fighting against most of them, because most of them are pathetic crybullies. For those crybullies who are “professional,” stupid and crazy enough to try to keep up their stupid crusades despite the deserved resistance they encounter, yeah, sure, they’ll draw more attention to themselves as a result of their fellow crazies seeing the resistance that’s applied. (Think: Incestboro Craptist Church, I mean, “Westboro Baptist Church.”)

            But eventually, more attention-givers who are not crazies, the vast majority of us including you and me, will realize the assholery of the professional asshole and will understand, sympathize with, and support the temporary assholery of the anti-assholes. The law of diminishing returns for being an asshole thus will be enforced against the “original” asshole. Bitch customer will be most convincingly exposed for who she is, for the world to see. Who knows? A counter-offensive of assholery against bitch customer just might succeed in exposing yet more of the assholes who are like-minded to bitch customer, and send them back into the slimy shadows where they can stew in their own bullshit-flavored spit.

            • I’ve participated in funerals of fallen military by riding with the Patriot Guard Riders, that single act of “loudly” riding IS using intelligence to counter wingnuts and put a physical and audible barrier between the wing nuts and the family and friends of the fallen. The families usually appreciate the presence to oppose the wingnuts. I won’t participate in the spittle slinging matches that some people have engaged with when dealing with the wingnuts from Westboro; as my old Army buddy says, to stand there and yell at those wingnuts is like beating a dead horse and it doesn’t make anything better regardless of how good it makes us feel to spit in their eye.

              It’s been a good conversation, catch ya later.

  8. Yet another reason to avoid Starbucks… Why millions of people stand in line for an overpriced, not that great, often highly caloric caffeine fix has always been beyond me.

    • Starbucks makes great, staining stuff to spill onto the keyboards and empty heads of bitch customers like that one who heckled Gov. Scott.

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