The CBS News producer who attempted to start a wine label called Jesus Juice while he was covering the Michael Jackson trial is beginning to backtrack after his activities were exposed.
After NewsBusters broke the story Sunday, other media outlets picked up our scoop including the Associated Press, TheSmokingGun.com and MSNBC's "Countdown." Since that time, the producer, Bruce Rheins, and his wife, Dawn Westlake, have removed all Jesus Juice material, including the label's logo, a crucified Jackson, from their respective web sites.
The New York Daily News spoke to Rheins yesterday, he disingenuously told the paper he never intended to make money from the offensive wine label:
"My wife and I are hobby winemakers. We made a few bottles for friends. We never wanted to sell it. We only trademarked it because we didn't want other people to try to make money off it.
"I apologize to anybody who is offended by this. It was an irreverent idea that, in hindsight, I would discard."
That explanation rings a little hollow, however, considering that the Los Angeles-based duo were selling merchandise bearing the wine's logo, a hybrid picture of a Christ figure sporting Jackson-esque clothing, through the web site CafePress.com. Some of the proffered items included wall clocks, mugs, and t-shirts.
Since we broke the story,
Rheins's spin also is contradicted by a diary entry his wife posted on her personal site this past July:
"We continued with our chores…canning 10 quarts of peach preserves from our overly productive peach tree, making merlot (from scratch…since, yes, we bought the Jesus Juice trademark…you think I’m joking? I’m not!)"
Later in the same entry,
"All too soon, it was time to leave. But, I'll be back! Maybe if Jesus Juice takes off, to buy property!! [sic]"
Aside from the above, however, Rheins's statement makes absolutely no sense. He and Westlake spent the money and time to file a trademark for Jesus Juice, a label which ridicules both Jackson and Christianity, all because they didn't want someone else to make money? Far more likely of an outcome is that Rheins and Westlake tried to get a buyer for the trademark (which he registered while covering the Jackson trial) and were unsuccessful.
UPDATE 13:52. It's worth noting that Rheins's boss at the L.A. CBS bureau, Jennifer Siebens knew about her second-in-command's insider journalism business. Sources tell NewsBusters that Rheins gave his colleagues, including Siebens, bottles of his preliminary wine, a merlot.
UPDATE 14:48. CBS News posted an official response to the Jesus Juice story at its Public Eye blog. Unfortunately, blogger Vaugh Ververs allowed Rheins to once again go with the "no profit" lie. No mention of Rheins and Westlake's Cafepress store. There are other inaccuracies as well:
- Rheins is quoted as saying that he and his wife never solicited any winery and that Westlake only made a "joking reference" to it on her personal site. In fact, the JesusJuice.biz web site also included a solicitation for potential business partners.
- Ververs also says the following: "When questioned about filing for the trademark, Rheins said the couple did so because 'we didn't want somebody to get hold of it' and make money off of it when they could be traced as the creators." Once again, this makes no sense. Trademarking the name Jesus Juice wine could certainly stop someone else from producing a line of it without Rheins and Westlake's permission, but had they not filed the trademark, how could anyone "trace" the name to the CBSer since he had no legal connection to it whatsoever? This explanation is further undermined when one realizes that there are several "Jesus Juice" products being offered at CafePress including an entire store that sells only such items. At the time this was updated (16:01 ET), there were 879 products that came up in a search for "jesus juice."