A Victory Over McLies


Toronto Globe and Mail; 20th Jun 1997

The two "crusading" media stars of the McLibel case went down lying and prevaricating right through to the bitter end. Even after the British judge had denounced just about every statement they had ever made about McDonald's as untrue and unjustified and without evidence, Helen Steel and David Morris tried yesterday to claim victory from the absolute wreckage of their libel trial.

"Despite the overwhelming odds against us ... the judge has found McDonald's guilty of exploiting children, of cruelty to animals and of having an anti-union attitude," Ms. Steel said.

Only a willful or psychotic misreading of Judge Rodger Bell's judgment could lead anyone to the conclusion that Ms. Steel and Mr. Morris have any legitimate claim to even the smallest victory. McDonald's triumph here, on behalf of truth and reality and fact over fiction and junk science and sheer political craziness, is unequivocal. Aside from a few minor exceptions, every claim made by Mr. Morris and Ms. Steel in their campaign against McDonald's and what they called "the worldwide hamburger connection" was condemned by Judge Bell as untrue and without foundation.

Resorting to libel law is often seen as an attempt by corporations to stifle criticism and suppress free speech. The McDonald's case, however, is not just another knee-jerk ploy by a huge multinational to send libel chill out to its critics. McDonald's brought the claim for libel against London Greenpeace, of which Mr. Morris and Ms. Steel were members, over a 1986 pamphlet the group distributed at McDonald's outlets in Britain. The pamphlet is a microencyclopedia of fabricated enviro scares. In a significant way, the McLibel case put the whole environmental movement - its hype and half truths and unsupportable claims - on trial, and the movement lost.

Judge Bell demolished every claim in the pamphlet, a bizarre collection of environmental myths and fantasies, not unlike the myths and fantasies that fuel much of the environmental movement around the world. The judgment, reached after more than 300 days of testimony, leaves no doubts.

There is "no evidence," for example, for the claim that McDonald's uses lethal poisons in clearing land for animal grazing, and "no evidence" that McDonald's is responsible for destroying 800 square miles of forest every year. Claims that McDonald's was to blame for the starvation of children in Third World countries "are not and never have been true." It is "not true" that McDonald's purchased large tracts of land and drove farmers from their homes in Central America. It is "not true" that McDonald's misrepresented the recycled content of its packaging. There is "no evidence" for and it is "not true" that McDonald's exposes its customers to risks of food poisoning or to any adverse health risks from hormones, additives or pesticides.

There was much more. The judgment speaks for itself, assuming the media let the judgment speak.

Just as absurd is the theory now circulating that McDonald's, by spending $16-million (U.S.) fighting these two loopy anti-corporate activists, has only drawn attention to their bizarre cause. Even though McDonald's won the case, this theory goes, the corporate giant may have lost the public relations war. This is nonsense. The only way McDonald's could end up a loser here is if the media, the people who will prepare and carry the McLibel results to the world, fail to fully and accurately acknowledge the full scope of the misrepresentation, falsehoods and out-of-this-world lunacy that the Steel-Morris campaign represents.

McDonald's has not been found guilty of anything by Judge Bell, unless marketing to children, slaughtering chickens and being anti-union are some kind of crimes. On the union issue, the judge actually said that while McDonald's clearly is "strongly anti-pathetic" to unionization, the Steel-Morris claim that the company had a policy of sacking pro-union employees is "untrue." Also untrue are claims that workers are paid low wages. And a charge that the company exploits disadvantaged blacks and women is "not proved to be true" and is "not justified."

Indeed, Judge Bell concluded what tens of thousands of McDonald's workers already know. A company that relies on "smart, cheerful staff providing brisk service" does not meet success by abusing its workers. Nor its customers. Sure McDonald's markets to children, but it does not deceive children with cheap gimmicks that cover up lousy food, the judge said. Children return to McDonald's not because of the marketing gimmicks, but because they like the beef burgers and "best bits of all, I suspect, chips or fries." As the judge said, if the food were lousy, "No cover-up could last long. No cover-up is necessary anyway." Environmental extremism was on trial here, and McDonald's scored a victory.

[ also in the same edition]

"McDonald's don't deserve a penny and in any event we haven't got any money." - Bar worker Helen Steel after the fast-food chain won a libel case yesterday against her and fellow activist Dave Morris.

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