It seemed innocuous enough to us -- or to anyone who has searched for cinnamon to top off an overpriced latte at America's most annoying foamagerie.
Except maybe to NYT Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Don Van Natta Jr.
At around 10:00 pm last night, Adam Penenberg, an NYU journalism professor, turned to Twitter to file a 140-character complaint against everybody's favorite retail punching bag, Starbucks.
"Dear @Starbucks," Penenberg wrote. "At $4+ a grande cappuccino, you should never run out of cinnamon or cocoa powder, yet many of your NY locations do. #cmon."
Just moments later, Van Natta -- who follows Penenberg on Twitter -- fired off this reply:
If you whine here about nonsense-- like no cinnamon at @Starbucks -- you get unfollowed. Adios, @Penenberg.
At which point, apparently, Van Natta deleted Penenberg from his Twitter "follow" list.
Ouch! Seems like an outsize response to a fairly standard Twitter feed, especially given the fact that Penenberg is also a respected investigative journalist -- famous, in fact, for having exposed the fabrications of Stephen Glass at The New Republic while a reporter for Forbes. Penenberg has written books on social media and business, and and has taught at NYU journalism school for several years.
Van Natta's excision of Penenberg from his Twitter feed seems especially odd, considering his own constant use of Twitter -- he posts several times a day -- to file his own offhand comments.
Here's a recent Van Natta sampler:
My World Cup predictions: Spain/Portugal 2018, Australia 2022.
Why does @KingJames still call himself "King of Akron?" Is there a South Beach club named Akron?
This #Knicks team is almost as cool as Clyde Frazier.
Barring last min glitch Gruden is happening. Yeah!!!!!!! http://bit.ly/fJsaSo
Those examples were provided by Penenberg, who told The NYTPicker he was baffled a bit by Van Natta's quick, harsh response.
"It's all so silly and I don't know what set him off," Penenberg wrote us in reply to our questions. "If you check out my tweetstream you'll note that I don't usually blather on about the lack of cinnamon at Starbucks. Then again, it's Twitter, not Charlie Rose."
After citing the examples of Van Natta's own oddball tweets, Penenberg added: "Nothing wrong with that, of course. Although by the standard Van Natta set for me, I'd recommend he immediately stop following himself, just to be consistent."
Penenberg noted on Twitter -- shortly after the Van Natta pronouncement -- that he sees the NYT as being unduly sensitive to outside criticism. He elaborated on that point to The NYTPicker.
"When I said it's typical of the Times I was recalling the way the Times sometimes responds to critical coverage--like stories by Michael Hirshhorn in the Atlantic, Mark [Bowden] in Vanity Fair, and others."
Penenberg then provided a link to what he described as NYT executive editor Bill Keller's "acidic comments" re Bowden's profile of Arthur Sulzberger.
"Some in Times management also don't take kindly to having the paper's online business strategies questioned," Penenberg went on. "As both a fan and critic, I'd like to see the Times act with greater class. Times' management should be able to handle criticism better, not act so thin-skinned. Van Natta's off-his-meds behavior reminded me of that."
Van Natta hasn't yet responded to a request for comment from The NYTPicker.