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McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial Hardcover – November 1, 1997
From Library Journal
Vidal, an environmental reporter for the London Guardian, has written a breezy narrative of England's most costly and complex civil trial. The libel case, based on a political tract criticizing McDonald's anti-environment and anti-vegetarian corporate ethic and advertising strategy, was just recently decided in McDonald's favor on legal grounds. Nevertheless, many Britons see the case as a moral victory for the defendants, two members of London Greenpeace who represented themselves pro se and who forced McDonald's to spend millions on legal fees. Vidal offers an easy-to-follow account of the trial, but his primary focus of is a broad analysis of the many environmental and social justice questions raised by the case. Surprisingly, this format works extraordinarily well. Vidal navigates artfully through each issue, ranging from the freedom of the English press and global corporate environmentalism to food safety and advertising aimed at children. A healthy dose of McDonald's history and profit statistics is thrown in as well. Recommended for all but the smallest libraries.?Steven Anderson, Baltimore Cty. Circuit Court Law Lib., Towson, Md.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A lively account of the food fight that became the longest trial in British history. When a flyer entitled ``What's Wrong with McDonald's'' circulated around London, the burger giant took umbrage and sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, members of London Greenpeace (an environmental group not affiliated with the international organization Greenpeace), for libel. Here Vidal, who covered the trial for the London Guardian, recounts some of the issues addressed and the difficulties faced by the two underdogs who, without benefit of a court-appointed lawyer or funds from legal aid, acted as their own attorneys in facing the corporation's crack legal team in a bench trial (they were denied a jury). British libel law required that Steel and Morris prove the accuracy of virtually every statement made in the flyer. The company may since have come to regret their suit: The pair, assisted by a network of volunteers, did a very credible job of tracking down information in support of the flyer's claims. This effort leads Vidal to discussions of the nutritional value of McDonald's food; whether or not that food contained any beef raised on former rainforest land; the corporation's treatment of workers; and its reactions to employees' efforts to unionize. By the time Vidal is finished with such subjects, the Golden Arches look a little tarnished. But his account would have benefited from waiting for the verdict that was handed down this summer, and from concluding with more rumination on the case and less grandstanding on the evils of multinational corporations. Still, Vidal's blend of human interest and sheer outrageousness make this a ripping legal yarn. If the case itself hasn't already given Ronald McDonald indigestion, this book might. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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McLibel is a true tale of once upon a time, not so very long ago (1990 - 1997) when the Davids took on a Goliath (Ronald McDonald and his Big Bad Corporation) in not-so-Merry-Old England. Two unemployed activists had distributed leaflets, (which they neither wrote nor produced,) that had the audacity to criticize the corporate giant. The two, who were unable to afford attorneys, were put to a Kafka-esque Kangaroo (with apologies to residents of Australia) Court trial, the likes of which, were it to appear on Saturday Night Live, would be condemned as Theatre of the Absurd.
The author describes the protracted trial: "Like the interminable case of _Jarndyce v. Jarndyce_ in Charles Dickens' *Bleak House,* _McDonald's Corporation and McDonald's Restaurants Ltd. vs. Helen Marie Steel and David Morris_ (popularly known as the McLibel case) drone(d) on in claustrophobic isolation."
One of the most striking things about McLibel, to the American sensibility, is the arcane, archaic, bizarre, Byzantine Quagmire of British libel law. The book is sometimes difficult to digest. There are no footnotes, endnotes, annotations, or other direct attribution of sources. I was disappointed that the Writ and other pleadings (actual legal papers which are the foundation of a lawsuit,) were not included in the Appendix. A reproduction of the offending leaflet would also have been helpful. The author, British "Environmental Journalist" John Vidal (Hey! Is he related to Gore Vidal?) frequently plagues the reader with his own protracted political polemics. But it is, nonetheless, enriched food for thought.
Do you want fries with that? Here's an interesting bit of trivia included in the book: Ray Kroc, founding force behind McDonald's as we know it, was in the same World War I ambulance driving company as Walt Disney.
McDonalds dont come across well - they smear, snoop and spy on Morris and Steel. Their libel action nothing more than an attempt to make an example of the pair to discourage any others. Their tenacious acceptance of the gauntlet thrown down by McDonalds ought to be an example to us all.
Vidal also includes a prescient chapter (written in 1997) looking at the forces of globalism and the resistance to it. He is a writer on top of his subject. Steel and Morris write a few pages on their experience. McDonalds, despite an invite to contribute, keep schtum. I suppose this is considered an old story now , but one that is definetely still relevant and Vidals book is well worth getting hold of.
One point - make sure you get the edition with the final judgement in it as some editions don't get that far.
It was at this point that McDonalds made a serious legal error in making some allegations against the enviromentalists. This led to a counter suite for defamation which was run at the same time. The problem for McDonalds was that they had to lead evidence to prove their case. Normally in a defamation case it would be up to the defendant to do so. As the two enviromentalists were both broke they would not have been able to do so. However McDonalds by their tactical mistake forced themselves to provide evidence to back up their claims. The two enviromentalists were able to cross examine the various McDonalds witnesses to provide evidence for their claims.
As a result the case went on for so long that it became Britain's longest ever case. The two enviromentalists had a year to learn how to cross examine and were able to elicit some evidence that was unflattering McDonalds.
In these sorts of cases costs of litigation are nominally recoverable from the losing side. However as the two enviromentalists had no money any cost order against them was without value. This led to a incredibly long and expensive case which ended up bleeding McDonalds with the unfortunate side effect that the two enviromentalists were able to milk it for all it was worth to attack the reputation of McDonalds. From the point of view of the firm a total disaster... The decision to litigate had been a disaster.
The book is okay but leaden at times, the film that was released of the event is probably a bit more interesing.
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