Mclibel: Burger Culture on Trial

Mclibel: Burger Culture on Trial

by John Vidal
     
 

McLibel is the unlikely but true story of how a pamphlet called “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s?” led to the longest trial in British history. In what has become front-page news around the globe, the trial pitted the multibillion dollar corporation against five members of London Greenpeace accused by McDonald’s of libel. Three

Overview

McLibel is the unlikely but true story of how a pamphlet called “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s?” led to the longest trial in British history. In what has become front-page news around the globe, the trial pitted the multibillion dollar corporation against five members of London Greenpeace accused by McDonald’s of libel. Three activists capitulated and apologized; two persevered.

McLibel tells the story of the “McLibel Two” and the two-and-a-half-year trial in which the jeans–clad and impoverished defendants represented themselves against the best powdered-wig lawyers McDonald’s could buy.

Does the fast-food chain exploit children? Depress wages? Level South and Central American rain forests? Subject its cattle and chicken to mass slaughters? A final chapter explores these allegations and details the $98,000 verdict against the activists Morris and Steel, which is widely viewed as a moral victory for the defendants and a public relations fiasco for McDonald’s.

Environmental reporter John Vidal covered all two and a half years of the trial. In the tradition of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, he brings this David and Goliath story to life, shedding light on the corporate machinations of a secretive multinational company, the British legal system, and the implications for any individuals inclined to critique a $30-billion-a-year powerhouse.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fascinating case study for why Americans hold the Bill of Rights so dear, and a rollicking good read. Vidal brings this tale of free speech, corporate responsibly, and how they collide to life." —Nadine Strossen, national president of the American Civil Liberties Union and professor of law at New York Law School

"McCensorship is hitting America. ‘Shut up and eat.’ Or read this brave book and fight for free speech and safe food." —John Stauber, editor of PR Watch and co-author of Mad Cow U.S.A. and Toxic Sludge Is Good for You

"In America, public criticism of a public institution is part of the right of free speech. . . . The McLibel case shows [British] civil law working at its expensive worst—a ponderous and leisurely sledgehammer that has been trundled out to crack a nut." —John Mortimer, Sunday Times(UK)

"Entertaining and informative." —The Guardian

"An excellent history of McDonalds [that] . . . more than showing the archaic and baffling nature of British libel laws, ties in the global corporate culture in which McDonalds is a major player." —Tribune (UK)

"In my dreams, McLibel will be a comic musical, with ba-boom! noises when the McLibel Two trick an opposition expert medical witness into agreeing with a passage of the alleged libel, a lawyers’ can-can led by Ronald McDonald, a soprano vegetarian emoting about the evils of indoctrinating the young while letting slip that she has personally lectured 30,000 schoolchildren on vegetarianism. . . . [But] even told seriously, the story compels." —Libby Purves, The Times (UK)

Booknews
In this Goliath vs. David account, Vidal (environmental editor, London ) recaps the longest trial (1994-96) in British history: a libel suit by McDonald's restaurants against five London Greenpeace members. Whether or not one agrees with the defendants' pamphlet charging that McDonald's exploits employees, animals, children, farmers, and rain forests, this is an enlightening case study of corporate power and an arcane legal system clashing with free speech rights. Two of the defendants furnished information for the book; the pyrrhic victor, McDonald's, did not. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565844117
Publisher:
New Press, The
Publication date:
11/28/1997
Pages:
354
Product dimensions:
6.45(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.27(d)

Meet the Author


John Vidal has been a journalist at the London Guardian for twelve years, as environmental editor for the past six years. He has twice won national Environment Journalist of the Year awards.

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